The Bedrock of Christianity
In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario and Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Justin Bass discuss historical facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Guest introductions
- Writing of The Bedrock of Christianity
- What are bedrock facts?
- Resurrection claims in the ancient world
- Importance of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7
- Jesus’ Messianic claim and crucifixion
- Is Jesus’ burial in a tomb a bedrock fact?
- Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus
- Paul’s radical conversion
- How Paul thought about Jesus
- Bass’ ministry in the Middle East
Mikel Del Rosario: Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Mikel Del Rosario, Cultural Engagement Manager at The Hendricks Center, here at Dallas Theological Seminary. But if you're watching this video or listening to the sound of my voice, you know that I'm not at Dallas Theological Seminary proper, because I'm not in the studio right now. We have a number of different ways that we bring you content on the table, and this is one of them, remote recordings, coming from our respective homes. And so we are pleased to bring you the table today this way, through a remote broadcast.
And today our topic on the table is the bedrock of Christianity. We're gonna be talking about historical facts surrounding Jesus' death, and his historic resurrection from the dead. I have two guests today, coming to us via Zoom. First guest is Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament at DTS. Welcome, Darrell.
Darrell Bock: My pleasure to be with you.
Mikel Del Rosario: This is the very first time I've ever had you as a remote guest.
Darrell Bock: What can I say. Social distancing is a real thrill. We can thank COVID for all this. I have no idea when people will watch this, so we may still or not still be in COVID world. But right now we're deep in the middle of it.
Justin Bass: Inshallah. May we not be in COVID anymore.
Mikel Del Rosario: And our second guest on the table today, coming to us also via Zoom is Justin Bass. Justin is a professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan, and the author of a book which is called, The Bedrock of Christianity, and the subtitle is The Unalterable Facts of Jesus' Death and Resurrection. Welcome to the show.
Justin Bass: Thanks so much.
Mikel Del Rosario: The last time that we had both of you guys here as guests on the show, it was my very first time hosting the table podcast. Justin, you might remember, you just finished your debate with Bart Ehrman at the time, and so it's special to have you guys back here on the show together again.
Justin Bass: Honored to be back.
Darrell Bock: Bobbsey twins return.
Mikel Del Rosario: Darrell, I'll call you a veteran of foreign wars.
Darrell Bock: That's exactly right.
Mikel Del Rosario: Thankfully you're actually in the United States right now, so we don't have a time difference. But Justin, how did this book come about, and what did you hope to accomplish by writing it?
Justin Bass: Well first, I want to definitely thank Dr. Bock in this respect, because the book really wouldn't have … probably … it probably would have been written, but I don't know where exactly it would have been publish if I hadn't gotten the help from Dr. Bock. And he also wrote the forward, really. And after he had sent it over to me and I read it, I was like, "This is perfect. It's really perfect." I even changed a few things towards the end to fit with some of the great points that he made in the forward.
But one of the things that I really wanted to do with this book, what really, I would say, inspired me to write it primarily, is to put really the bedrock facts, facts that are agreed upon across the board, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, liberal, conservative, Catholic, Protestant … when you go across the board of scholars across the Western world, where do they all agree on facts about Jesus, about his death, about his resurrection, about even his earliest followers, and the rise of this indestructible movement? And I wanted to put them all in a one stop shop, put them all in just one book. There's a lot of excellent books on the resurrection, but I wanted them to be in a place where we didn't have all the other debates, the debates that definitely we need to have in the gospels. But I stuck with Paul, and I wanted just to stick with the facts that just everyone agreed on. And so that … I've shared that that was pretty much the primary reason that I wrote the book.
But another reason, really, is that I found, in my evangelism, as a pastor for awhile, and sharing Christianity at debates, I've found again and again, atheists, people who come to me that are atheists and that have come out of a Christian background, again and again, I hear this story that it had something to do with the inerrancy of the Bible. It had something to do with when they discovered some sort of error, some sort of mistake in the Bible, which I don't think there are, but they were convinced, and that led them down the path towards agnosticism or atheism.
The famous example of this, of course, is Bart Ehrman himself, as he shares in beginning in Misquoting Jesus. He said, "The floodgates opened for him when he thought Mark made an error in the gospel of Mark, chapter 2." And I just wish I had been there and maybe if Darrell had been there at that time and said, "Bart, even if Mark made an error, Jesus still rose from the dead." But …
And I've just seen this again. Even that famous musician that came out recently an said he left Christianity, I read his de-conversion testimony, and he said it was issues of inerrancy, but he never mentioned the resurrection. So, I hope with this book, we can equip Christians all over the world to get back to the bedrock. The Bible, I believe, is the word of God, I do believe it is inerrant, but it's not our bedrock. The bedrock of our faith is Jesus' death and resurrection. So I'm hoping to get people back to that.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. I really appreciated how your book was approachable, and yet didn't skimp on the content. So it's something really great you can give to a person who's trying to sort out all of the different views that they see about Jesus, and the things they hear about the resurrection.
Now Darrell, you wrote the forward for this. How can you help us think through the bedrock facts, and how do those bedrock facts help us begin to sort out all these different views that people have about Jesus and the resurrection?
Darrell Bock: Well, I think it's clear … it's important to be clear about what the book is doing. And so someone hearing this introduction might say, "Wait a minute. Atheists and agnostics agree with Christians about things related to the resurrection? How in the world does that work?" And so, the book is about the agreement about the dates and historical facts that are at the root of Christian claims. Doesn't necessarily mean that an atheist believes that Jesus rose from the dead. That would be a very difficult concept. If that happened, the book would be incredibly successful, Justin.
But what it does point to is how early and how rich and how deep these core ideas of Christianity go back. Some skeptical handlings of the Bible suggest that there's much later material that's been laid on top of what we see, and that the Christian faith really evolved, if I can use that word, into something that became orthodoxy well down the road. So what Jesus was really involved with, and what became the Christian faith are actually, if I can say this, not Siamese twins, but true twins separated from one another. And Justin's book is designed to show, no, these two things are attached to each other, that the chronological sequence of the teaching and development of this doctrine is so much on top of these events, that you've got to recognize that the catalyst for all this is what Jesus did and said.
And so I think that's the thrust of the book. And sometimes we're so distant from those events, 2000 plus years, that people are slow to see that. And if they hear that, particularly the way this often gets expressed, "Well wait a minute. There are 30 to 60 years between what we see in the gospels, and what happened with Jesus." And stories change in that time, and things can be done in that time, that kind of thing. So Justin's trying to take that gap, what I call minding the gap, and pull it back so you can see how tight on top of itself it actually is, which makes it a different kind of historical issue.
Justin Bass: That tunnel period. We can reach back into that tunnel period.
Darrell Bock: Exactly.
Justin Bass: First 20 years of Christianity.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. So it really gives us a starting point where we can say, "Okay. Even those non Christian scholars, we can at least agree on this." Let's start there, and at least we have a place to begin to build on, asking questions about who Jesus is, and who he claimed to be, and of course, the detains surrounding the resurrection.
Darrell Bock: So whatever it is that Christians were teaching at the time, they were teaching from a very early point. That's the, in many ways, the point of the book. It wasn't something that came later. It wasn't something the early church foisted upon the Jesus history, that kind of thing. That's what's being dealt with in the book.
Mikel Del Rosario: Now Justin, the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead, how common would a claim like that have been in the ancient world?
Justin Bass: Well, when we're talking about Jewish resurrection, we're talking about the resurrection that was prophesied in Daniel, for example, in Daniel, chapter 12, verse 2, "that many who sleep in the dust will rise, some to everlasting shame and destruction, and others will shine like the stars," that kind of resurrection Jews believed. Many of them believed that it would happen at the end of the world. But as far as claiming somebody rose from the dead, in that resurrection sense, in the middle of history, this is unparalleled, that I know of. I don't think anyone ever claimed, let alone Jewish or anyone outside of Judaism claimed that an individual Messiah or whoever rose from the dead.
So this is an innovative, unique, unparalleled idea, that these earliest followers of Jesus came up with. So the historical question is, where did they get the idea? Where did they get that idea that their leader, Jesus, who was crucified rose again from the dead, beginning that resurrection that was prophesied in Daniel, exactly the way it says it, actually, in one of the passages in the book of Acts. I think it's Acts, chapter 4, it says “they were preaching in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” They were saying that the resurrection of the dead prophesied in Daniel has begun in Jesus. That is an unparalleled, unique claim, and so it begs for an answer from history of where did they come up with that?
Mikel Del Rosario: So this is an unexpected things. It sounds so common to us today, just because Christianity is such a force and so influential in the world. But we're gonna talk about that a little later, too, the influence that Jesus has had all throughout history, even to today.
But in your book you focus on Paul. And Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church, and this is one of the undisputed letters of Paul. It contains a very interesting tradition, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I'm gonna read that text here in a minute, but what makes the content of that passage so important as a place for us to focus in on and begin this discussion?
Justin Bass: Yeah, I talk about this as the bedrock source of Christianity. It's the Magna Carta of Christianity. It's an incredible thing, that here we have basically the most essential … the essential of the essentials of what we believe as Christians, that Jesus died for our sins, that he was buried, that he rose again from the dead, it all fulfilled the scriptures of the Old Testament, and this is altogether in this, what many scholars call a creedal tradition or a formula. The describe it in different ways. But it's something that Paul is quoting that goes back, like we said, in that early decades of Christianity. And most scholars would put it within five years of Jesus' death. I found that on average, across the boards, scholars put it at five years. Some put it maybe a decade after Jesus' death, and some, like the late James Dunn, great New Testament scholar, he put it at months in his Jesus Remembered. He said that within months of Jesus' death that they were formulating this creedal statement that we find in 1 Corinthians 15 that you'll read, Christ died for our sins, buried, rose again and appeared to a number of individual groups.
It's truly extraordinary, especially when you compare this to any other religion, any other group from the ancient world. Nobody has something that early close to their religious leader that I know of. It's an incredible thing that we have this pearl of great price, I would call it.
Mikel Del Rosario: Let's walk through this text together, and let's just start with the first three. And Paul writes, "For I delivered to you as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures." Now you mentioned this was a creed. How do we know that this is actually a creed that Paul's quoting here, that it's something that he got from before?
Justin Bass: Well most point, one, to the language that Paul uses as he introduces it. He says, "For I received," and, "I delivered." And that language we see commonly in, for example, the Mishna and in other Jewish writings. Josephus uses this kind of language for the transmission of tradition. And so it's already in that language we see that. But, it's just common sense, when you see that Paul is saying, "I received this," clearly to a group that he had planted this church. He planted this church in Corinth. We have it reported in the book of Acts. Most scholars put that planting of the church somewhere around 49, 50, even 51 AD, somewhere around there. But if he delivered it to them, and he received it before them, then he received it sometime before he planted the church in Corinth.
And so when did he receive it? And again, that's where most scholars would say it was somewhere in that first five years after Paul's conversion, either right after his conversion, and somewhere near Damascus, or it was when he met with Peter and James around maybe 37, 38 AD, in that phenomenal meeting that we have reported in the book of Galatians, that Peter and Paul hung out for about two weeks in Jerusalem, sometime in the late 30s AD. And again, this is one of those things that's indisuputed. It's not disputed that this is a tradition that Paul received, and that goes back that early.
Mikel Del Rosario: So this creed predates the gospels, that even Paul, who obviously he wrote this letter, so it came before him. Is this the earliest mention of Jesus' death?
Justin Bass: Dr. Bock can correct me, but I would say it is. I think, as far as for a formula, for some sort of written tradition, even if it was just oral in the beginning, I think this is the earliest statement of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection that we have on record.
Mikel Del Rosario: Darrell, is that right?
Darrell Bock: Yeah, I would think so, in a written form. Now, when we get further no down in our conversation, I think we're gonna push this date back and lower this gap, because we have to ask our self, okay, so where does this come from, and where does Paul's ability to understand the Christian message come from when Jesus appears to him on the Damascus road? And so all that theology … it may not be in a creedal statement … but all that theology out of early Christian preaching has to be in place for him to process the experience that actually turned him around. So that takes us way earlier. So the distinction between something written and passed on, vs. something that exists and is part of the teaching and preaching of the church needs to be made. But the two may be very tightly related to one another.
Mikel Del Rosario: Now …
Justin Bass: And it's agreed upon that Paul was converted at most, maybe two years after Jesus' …
Darrell Bock: Correct. And that's the point, is that …
Justin Bass: … before that. So now we're in that Jame Dunn estimation, which is months. We're talking months.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock: Exactly correct. And the point I like to make is, is that Paul can't even process his vision to understand what it means without that preaching being the precursor to … and it was in his head before that event. So. And he's got to have heard that at some previous point. And, of course, because he's been persecuting the church all along, he's hearing that, in some cases, with much more time than that time when he goes to Damascus to deliver … theoretically, he was supposed to deliver letters to begin arresting people there who were Christians. So, that's been in works for a long time. It reflects his own commitment, that it was reflected in the experiences depicted about Stephen in Acts. And so, all this is reasonably well documented, certainly accepted. And so, we're …
It's not just the date of when these things are written down that's important. There is a prehistory to that that is very, very important. And this creed represents part of that prehistory that Paul is reporting on in 1 Corinthians 15. So it's not the date of 1 Corinthians 15 that we're talking about, it's the date of the tradition that Paul received that he passed on to the Corinthians long before that letter was written.
Justin Bass: I'll just add to that, something that I found incredible too. I've read as many as I could find, commentaries on 1 Corinthians, specifically 15, going back to the earliest church, to the earliest comments that were made. And it really was the turn of the 20th century that historical critical scholarship first started to make these statements about how these, whether they were Christological hymns, about I think we'll talk about later, or creedal statements like 1 Corinthians 15, that they are pre Paul's letters, pre Pauline. And this is something that wasn't commented on. You have the early church fathers, you have the reformers. They're talking about 1 Corinthians 15, but they never, that I've found, make that point, that it goes back, that it's something that Paul is quoting that goes back this early. And so this really is a fruit of … we hear so much critical things about … negative things about historical critical scholarship, but this really is a fruit of the historical critical scholarship at just about 120 years ago, that these things have been popularized.
Darrell Bock: And that's completely understandable, because if you think through before we get to the historical critical method, people thought the Bible was inspired. So it was a true, and was given. And so you didn't go back to try and do the historical grounding work that is really the bread and butter of historical critical study. And so it would be natural that the historical setting would emerge in that kind of a context, where those kinds of questions are now being asked.
And so you're right. This is a positive fruit of that kind of work. And of course, anything that comes through that sieve … if can say it that way … that emerges on the other end, is of great value as we talk about the Bible, because it means that people who worked on this aren't people who have a faith, and therefore would often gets talked about today is a bias that could color what's being said. No. This is there, and people recognize it. Whether they have a faith or not, they recognize it's a part of the historical development of the ideas that are associated with Christianity, and that can help you if you're interacting with someone who's skeptical about the Bible.
Mikel Del Rosario: Now this creed uses the word Christ here. And Darrell, when you think about the crucifixion, well, first of all, creeds, they don't give us all the details, that they give us something that's really easy to memorize and to remember. So it says Jesus died. But we know he was crucified. And when we think about the crucifixion, there was a sign that was put up on Jesus' cross with the charge, king of the Jews. Now how does that line up with Jesus claim to be the Christ, at his Jewish examination, in terms of how that got translated?
Darrell Bock: Well, of course, the most significant things is to ask yourself, what's he doing being crucified to begin with? What's he doing up on the cross? And the answer to that question is, he's being crucified because, from a Roman government standpoint, he is being charged with sedition. He is claiming to possess an authority that Rome itself did not give him. The way I like to say it is, is that Rome is responsible for representing and authenticating its rulers and its government. And so if you claim to be a king, when Rome didn't appoint you to be a king, that's viewed as sedition, that's viewed as treason. And then the next line that I like to make is, and so Rome believes in law and order. You follow our law or we'll put you in order.
Justin Bass: Rome was good at it.
Darrell Bock: That's right.
Justin Bass: Rome was good at crucifying people who claimed to be the Messiah.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right, because they didn't appoint them. So … And even though there's a Jewish background to Jesus death as well, coming from the Jewish leadership who were challenging him at the level of being a blasphemer because he was claimed, at least in the trial before before the Jewish leadership, that he could sit at the right hand of God in heaven, which is a religious claim, Rome wasn't gonna process a religious claim. Rome could care less about Jewish disputes of theology. They only cared if it impinged on their own claims of authority, which is what being a Messiah is, 'cause Messiah's a king of Israel. And so, when it says, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," when it says, "King of the Jews," on that titulus that is associated with the cross, it's identifying the nature of the crime, and it's reinforcing the idea that's in the creed, that this was a claim, a disputed claim from Rome's perspective, but a claim that God vindicated through resurrection from Christians and this … and from a Christian point of view, God's perspective … that tells you who Jesus is. So that's why we're in the core part of the creed. It's, to use Justin's word, a piece of bedrock about Christian theology. And so we build from there.
Justin Bass: It's interesting to point out that the King of the Jews on the cross, that's a bedrock fact. That's one of the facts from the gospels that is agreed upon across the board.
Darrell Bock: Only those who hold that the entire Jesus story is a myth deny that element of the story. And that percentage of groups is so small …
Justin Bass: Less than 1 percent. That’s why I say 99 percent.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. So that's a snow white truth, 99.9 percent pure.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. And Justin compares that kind of thinking to Holocaust deniers and people who don't think we put a man on the moon, and things like that. It's really out there, that out there.
So let's go on to the next verse, verse 4, where Paul is quoting the creed, and he says, "That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." Now how likely is it that the burial here hints of burial in a tomb? Were there other ways people were buried? Or is pretty much given that that's what it means to bury someone in a tomb? Justin, what do you think?
Justin Bass: I'll just make the point on this first that this isn't a bedrock fact in the sense that it doesn't reach that high bar where everyone across the board agrees that Jesus had this proper burial, and was put in a tomb. But, I do think the evidence suggests that in every way. In fact, when you parallel this phrase, it's one word in the Greek, you see in Acts 2, you see it in Luke 16, and when it says King David was buried, and his tomb remains here to this day. So, burial and the tomb go together. And it talked about the rich man being buried. He was buried in a tomb, in a very nice tomb in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And so you see consistently that for Paul to say he was buried, that doesn't mean he was thrown in a ditch somewhere. That doesn't mean he was eaten by dogs. That means he had some sort of proper burial.
So I think we should see that as a bedrock fact. I think all the evidence supports it, but as far as when it comes to all scholars just saying across the board that it's the case, I think it's somewhere, if last I saw from Gary Habermas, he says over 75 percent or so agree on the proper burial by Joseph of Arimathea, and the empty tomb on the third day. But it doesn't reach that 99.9 percent. But that in no way means it's not true, it just means it's not reaching that high bar that I'm talking about in the book. But I think the evidence suggests, it's in the early creed. And why would Paul say, why would he mention he was buried if he was thrown in a ditch or these other crazy views that we find sometimes.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. The alternative is the idea that he was buried like any felon crucified might, who didn't have someone to bury him, and just thrown into, I guess, a criminal's grave, would be the way to … But if that were to happen, that would make the entire launch of the Christian movement very, very difficult, because you're in Jerusalem, you're preaching that there is an empty tomb, you're preaching that his body is not discoverable. But if Rome had put it in a grave with a whole bunch of other criminals alongside, how in the world are you gonna get away with the claim of an empty tomb, if an empty tomb never existed. And so, and the Romans come along and say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. What is this empty tomb stuff? We put him over here with all the other bad guys." And that would have been the end of it. But that's not what you get.
And then, the Jewish tradition that you see in Matthew about the body being stolen, that can't exist without the idea of an empty tomb being behind it. They knew where the body was, and they went to steal it. It's not in … The other action would be, "Well, he's just one body among many, and he's over here. Go down four blocks, take a right, and there's the criminals' tomb." So none of that makes any sense in terms of the background. So that's a solid piece of the creed as well.
Justin Bass: And also, I quote in the book both Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, who were very close to the time of Jesus. And they both speak about the proper burial of Jews who had been crucified by their family, because it was on … many times it was on holy days. And so this fits. What happened to Jesus according to the Gospels in every way fits the evidence at the time.
Darrell Bock: In fact, it even fits the Mishnaic law that says that if you are crucified as a criminal, then you cannot be buried in a family tomb. And Jesus was not buried in a family tomb. Even though there were people who claimed him, he was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, not in a family tomb. So even the dishonor of the kind of felon's death that Jesus participated in meant that he was not given, at least in that sense, an honorable burial. There's a huge debate about whether Jesus' burial was honorable or not, to which the answer is, well, answer's yes and yes. It was honorable in the sense that he was buried, he was honored with spices and taken care of by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. But it was not an honorable burial in the sense that he didn't get to be buried with his family, which, by the way, is a side apologetic on the claim about a decade ago that Jesus' body is retained in some family tomb in Jerusalem, that's been more recently discovered. That can't work in light of what the text is saying about the way Jesus was buried.
Mikel Del Rosario: So here the creed mentions the burial. We have 75 percent of scholars that will hold to the empty tomb, not one of the bedrock facts, maybe a secondary kind of fact. But we do have these things that cohere with that idea of burial.
Let's look at verse 5. "That he appeared to Cephas, and then to the 12." So now we're getting into the resurrection appearances that are mentioned. And Justin, what's the significance of mentioning Cephas, or Peter, and then the 12 right here?
Justin Bass: And again, it should be pointed out that this is another unparalleled thing in ancient literature. We don't see this catalog of appearances of an apparition or resurrected person, or anything like that that we see in 1 Corinthians 15. Really incredible thing. He lists multiple individuals and groups and himself having seen the risen Jesus, that the risen Jesus appeared to these people. And he starts with, as you said, Cephas, or Kephas, the Aramaic name for Peter, probably the exact name the ipsissima verba, the literal words of Jesus, that what he would have said when he called him rock, when he changed Simon's name. This would have been an actual … his actual name. This is the name that Paul knew him as. In fact, in the early letters of Paul, we see this is how he refers to him. He only uses Peter a few times. He usually refers to him as Kephas.
But yeah, he's mentioning the fact that Peter had this appearance. This also agrees with Luke. If you look at Luke 24, it also says that he appeared to Simon, and the appearance to the 12 happened that evening, according to John, and according to Luke. So you have an agreement here with the creed, and with the later Gospel accounts, that he appeared to Peter, and he appeared to the group of disciples that evening, probably minus Judas, so technically 11, but the 12 is probably like a title that was used with Jesus' inner circle. But again, this would be bedrock fact. The bedrock fact here would be that Peter believed Jesus appeared to him, and that a group of disciples, all scholars wouldn't agree on exactly a certain number, but they would agree there was a group appearance that is reflected in this tradition that we find, not only here in the creedal tradition, but also in the Gospel accounts, as well.
Darrell Bock: There's something subtle going on here with the whole of this that I hope we note. So I'll note it. And that is, notice back in verse 3 where it says that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. And, of course, what Paul is trying to do here is he's trying to give core facts about the early history of Christianity, and what happened to Jesus. That's what this creed is about. But most people don't think about this. How do you prove that someone died for your sins? What does dying for your sins look like, and how do you prove it?
That's actually a very good question. It's a little bit like, how can you prove that God performed a miracle? It's something you can't see. I sometimes joke about this when I teach on it and say, "Can someone tell me what forgiveness of sins looks like? Bye sin. Glad to see you're going away. Hope you stay away a long time. We'll see you later." It's not something you can see. It's not something you can grasp. What Paul is claiming in this chapter is a vindication of who Jesus is by what God has done. I can see the empty tomb. I can testify to appearances that take place. But the theological significance of what that means, I can't show. So I show something that I can experience and see, to point to something that I can't justify and prove on its own terms. And that's what the resurrection fundamentally is. It's a vindication. It a vindication of Jesus' claims.
And what Paul is claiming the entire chapter is, if we don't have a resurrection, we don't have a vindication. If we don't have a vindication, then the theology that the church teaches, we can't know to be the case. If we can't know that that is the case, then we are, as he says later, the most pitied of all people, because we've hoped for something that actually isn't a hope. So that's what's at stake in what the creed is presenting, and that's why Justin said this is bedrock stuff that we're talking about.
Justin Bass: And just to add to that, the whole point of 1 Corinthians 15, really the heart of the entire letter, is to argue that because Jesus rose, we will all rise. And new creation has begun with Jesus' resurrection. That that resurrected that Daniel talked about has begun in Jesus. And because we know he rose from the dead, we all will rise in the future, because the whole point of him talking about this questions that he received from the church in Corinth about the resurrection body. And so he starts with the foundation, he starts with the bedrock of Jesus' resurrection to point to the fact that we all will rise one day.
Mikel Del Rosario: And so he mentions Cephas here, he mentions the 12. In verse 6 he says, "Then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." So now we get an actual number right here. What do you say to people …
Justin Bass: More than 500.
Mikel Del Rosario: More, that's right. More than 500. So what would you say to someone who's like, "Oh, come on. More than 500? This is clearly legendary, because why would you say this astronomical number? How do we respond to the claim that this is just way too developed and legendary?
Justin Bass: Yeah, this is a fun one. Again, this one doesn't pass that high bar of the bedrock facts, either, but the best that I can tell, the reasoning behind that is just because it's too good to be true. It's such an incredible claim that we happen to have in our earliest statement about the resurrection. But people like … like for example, the mythicists Robert Price, one of the few mythicists who have credentials in biblical studies. He actually wrote an article trying to argue that this was interpolated into 1 Corinthians … that the whole creedal statement, actually, including this was interpolated into 1 Corinthians 15, and comes from much later, like the end of the first century. And one of the reasons he gives in the article is because of this statement about the 500. He's like, "How could that be so early?" This is legendary stuff. This is stuff that we get in the gospel of Peter and the gospel of Mary Magdalene, the kind of stuff we get second, third century.
But isn't that amazing, that we get it in this earliest statement of Christianity, we get this testimony that the 500 … And even Bart Ehrman, his reasoning for rejecting is fascinating, too. He basically says, there is a … I'm quoting him. He says, "There is a certain force in this argument," meaning that Jesus really appeared to 500. He says that in How Jesus Became God. There's a certain force to this argument. Yes, there is. It's a strong force to this argument. But then he just dismisses it and says, "Well, Paul may have just heard it from somebody who heard it from this person, and that's why we can't trust it."
But it's from this earliest creed. And Paul, no doubt, being in Jerusalem, he had talked to some of these people. His reputation was on the line with the Corinthians. He's defending himself against these false teachers. If there wasn't really these people going around saying that they had seen the risen Jesus, his reputation would have been tarnished. So he is definitely, I think, telling the truth. We have every reason to believe him, that there was a large crowd of people that saw the risen Jesus at one point. And there were many alive at the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians in the 50s AD, readily available to be questioned, and to be investigated about what it was like to see the risen Jesus. It's extraordinary.
Darrell Bock: Yeah. I call it the check it out portion of the creed. You can go to these guys and check it out. Some of them are still alive. Ask them. Now, if none of them are alive … if you going around, "Did you see Jesus? Did you?" "No. Not me. Not me, not me, not me, not me." "I can't find anyone who's alive, Paul. What's going on?"
Justin Bass: There's probably a line of people waiting to talk to him in Jerusalem.
Darrell Bock: So you're sitting there going … He's sending a signal that this is not made up, and that …
Justin Bass: It's an apologetic. It's truly an apologetic.
Darrell Bock: This can be checked out. And so it's an important part of the creed, beyond the individual apostolic witnesses that he mention, et cetera. It's an interesting … the list itself is very, very interesting in terms of who gets named here. And James is mentioned. That's interesting, because we're told in the gospels that his family was slow, if you will, to believe everything that he was claiming.
So, the resurrection accomplished something that his ministry itself didn't accomplish. And so that's worth noting, as well.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. So we have the significance of James as one who didn't believe in Jesus during his earthly ministry. That's … verse 7 says, "Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." We have the mention of Cephas, we have the mention of the 12, at least 500 people. And I think you're right, this, "most of whom are still alive," is an implicit, "go check it out." These aren't just, "Oh, my grandpa heard this," something that you can't check out. This is …
Darrell Bock: "I heard it from a rabbi somewhere in someplace."
Mikel Del Rosario: Right.
Darrell Bock: It's not that.
Mikel Del Rosario: This is actually something …
Justin Bass: … And we know people traveled. That's what's so cool. We know Apollos, for example. Apollos traveled to Corinth. We know he went there. We know Peter went from Jerusalem to Corinth. Paul obviously did. Barnabas. So we know people went to Corinth and back to Jerusalem. This was a very possible travel for the Corinthians to make, if they wanted to, on holiday, go and meet some of these people who saw the risen Jesus.
Darrell Bock: What's really interesting, of course, is that … and Corinth is like Ephesus in this regard … is that we're talking about areas that were a commercial crossroads, that drew people, and people moved in and out of, that kind of thing. Corinth was … if you can get this comparison … Corinth was the Las Vegas of the ancient world. And so, in that sense, in terms of its reputation …
Justin Bass: Ephesus, New Orleans.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. So you're sitting there going, these are places that people are moving through on the way to somewhere else. So that … it's the closest thing to ancient cosmopolitan cities that we can be thinking about in this list, if you think of Rome, Corinth, et cetera, Ephesus. These are not minor offshoot locations. And so this kind of check it out appeal could exist.
Mikel Del Rosario: This is fairly unique in world religious literature, the fact that you would name people like this, you would imply that you can go and talk to them and check this out. And, of course, the fact that Christianity is based on Jesus, a real historical person, who had to really live, really get crucified, buried, and really, physically rise from the dead, or else the whole faith crumbles. It doesn't work, by Paul's own admission.
Justin Bass: Stands and falls on it.
Mikel Del Rosario: So let's talk about Paul. In verse 8 he goes on to … now he's adding himself in here, last of all. He says, "as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." Now, most people jump right into the Gospels, obviously, when they start talking about Jesus and what we can know about Jesus historically. But Darrell, help us understand more about why Paul is so important when it comes to us thinking through these bedrock facts.
Darrell Bock: Well, we've already alluded to this to some degree. And the way I like to talk about it is to talk about it in relationship to the way the gospels become a part of the conversation. So people say, "Well, wait a minute. It's 30 years" … in fact in some cases for others who are skeptical it's longer than that … between the time of Jesus' events, and the time the gospels being written, usually alluding to Mark, Matthew, Luke, with John coming in the 90s, 60 years later. So there's a gap. So I'm gonna try and do this visually.
So there's a gap here that you have to deal with. Then you can say, "Well, we know we can date the theology back to Paul's letters." That takes us back to about 49. Most people put Galatians in about the 49 period. Assuming crucifixion either 30 or 33, that gets debated. So you're with in 16 years, basically, maybe a little more. So that's when Paul writes. But Paul is expressing a theology he's carried and preached with him, throughout the ancient world. How far back can we push that? That goes all the way back to that Damascus road appearance. That goes … in fact, it precedes the Damascus road experience because again, as we said earlier, he has to be able to process this raised Jesus experience when it happens. And the only way he's able to do that, "You know those guys who I'm fighting against, those bad guys, the Apostles, they were preaching a raised Jesus. I am now seeing him." That takes you back within those few months, a couple years, 18 months or so before, up to the time of the crucifixion, et cetera. And it presupposes that what Paul was fighting against was that message and that preaching. That's what he's objecting to, that Jesus was risen from the dead, and that he claimed to be the Messiah, and claimed to be in the middle of God's program and plan.
So you literally have taken this huge gap and shrunk it right down on top of itself. And from an ancient, historical perspective, that's significant. That's not quite like an autobiography, but almost. And so that reduces that gap. It reduces the period in which the theology appeared. It becomes very hard to blame the theology of the early church for all of this that we see. And so, again, the rootage and the catalyst, going back to the resurrection idea itself, only the Sadducees … The Sadducees denied resurrection, the Pharisees believed in a physical resurrection at the end of history. What's responsible for the mutation that Justin described earlier? A resurrection in the midst of history. Something's gotta catalyze that change.
Justin Bass: Radical mutation.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. And so in the midst of that, then, you get this declaration, and you get the experience of Paul on top of it, and you're dating the core theology of the early church, the bedrock content of Christianity back on top of the very events themselves as they were unfolding. It hardly gets any better.
Mikel Del Rosario: Yeah. That's amazing. And on top of that, Paul is an enemy of the Christian faith at this point, an outright enemy of the movement. He doesn't miss Jesus so much that he wants to see him he wasn’t in a state to hallucinate this vision.
Justin Bass: Let me say that that's one of the bedrock facts, too, that Paul's transformation, from this Pharisaic persecutor of the church to this world changing apostle of Christ's, that again is agreed upon. Go back to the beginning of historical critical scholarship, going back to 250 years ago, this has always been agreed upon. I don't know of anyone who's ever said that Paul did not have this … Even mythicists will agree on this one. So Paul having this transformation is agreed upon across the board. So you have to ask, what did Paul see? What transformed the life of this man, and that ended up changing …
Darrell Bock: You only have two options. Either Jesus did it, or some type of psychosis. It's really the only two options that you have. And …
Justin Bass: The same people who would say it's some kind of psychosis, many of them will quote Paul's letter, 1 Corinthians 13 at their wedding.
Darrell Bock: Exactly right. Not only that, I was gonna say, he doesn't write like crazy man.
Justin Bass: Doesn't write like a crazy man. He only wrote one of the greatest chapters on love ever.
Mikel Del Rosario: And he would have to share this same auditory and visual hallucination simultaneously with Cephas and with over 500 people, and the 12, all of them hallucinating the same thing, audio and visual at the same time? Really?
Justin Bass: Not just one person. I compare it in the book to Mormonism and Islam. When you're dealing with Mormonism, you're dealing with just Joseph Smith. It's all about him. And so let's look at his credibility, on what he claims that he saw with the angel Moroni and Jesus. And with Mohammad, what did he see with the angel Gabriel? It's all based on one eyewitness. With Christianity we have a plethora of witnesses. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to eyewitnesses.
Mikel Del Rosario: We're running a little low on our time here, but there is a key text that Darrell, you mentioned to me earlier, that we should take a look at here briefly. It's 1 Corinthians 8, verses 4-6. And this is really key in understanding how Paul answered the question who is Jesus? So let me just read this text briefly for us.
"Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. For although there may be so called gods in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us, there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist."
Darrell, help us understand what this shows about how Paul thought about Jesus.
Darrell Bock: Well again, this is another text that shows how early the core theology of the church is. So it's another bedrock text, if I can say it that way. It's probably one of the most important bedrock Christological texts, early Christological texts we have in the New Testament. And I think it's important to notice several things. When he talks about those who are called gods in the world, the ancient world was full of gods. If you go to Pompeii today, and you walk through the streets of Pompeii, there are at least six different temples to six different gods that are still preserved there.
Justin Bass: Jesus rid the world of all of those gods.
Darrell Bock: And in the Roman calendar, there are 150 religious holidays, most of which are dedicated to the gods. I like to joke with people. I said, "We need to adopt the Roman calendar so we can have a few more holidays. Be one every three days." I could live on that existence.
So the gods were everywhere. And he's basically saying, "We know in one sense they are not gods. Spiritual forces may exist, but other gods other than God doesn't exist." And then he goes to a variation of what is called the Shema. The Shema is the confession of Israel, "Here O Israel, the Lord your God is one." But he adjusts it. And the adjustment is, there's one God and there's one Lord, and there's the Father, and then there's one Lord Jesus Christ." Those are the two titles that he does to differentiate within that.
And then he does something else that people often miss, and that is he puts Jesus on the creator/creature side of the creator/creature divide.
Justin Bass: Crucified man.
Darrell Bock: And if you're thinking Jewishly, there's only one creator. That's the God of Israel. So when you do that, you've shifted the importance of who Jesus is. And of course, he names him. "One Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things, and through whom we live." To which someone who might be thinking about this and might scratch their head, get my hairline and say, "Wait a minute. I thought Jesus was born long after the creation." And Paul's saying, "Now wait a minute. Jesus was there on the creation side of the creation/creature divide, which puts him in the divine world."
Now, one other point to make. In the ancient world, it was common sometimes for humans to be elevated to the status of gods. This was done with emperors, et cetera. But the interesting thing there is is that when a human being was elevated to the status of a god, they were put at the bottom of the pantheon, if I can say it that way. They made it, but they made it in by the hair of their chinny chin chin, because they did something that basically the honoring of an emperor with the status of god says, he treated us, he ruled us with the authority and wisdom of a god. That's really what they were doing.
But with Jesus, what we're getting is a seeming elevation, or certainly an exultation that that exultation puts him right at the top of the pantheon, if I can say it that way. He's right there at the right hand of God. In fact, the point of the creed is, in effect, that God is responsible for showing that he has this position, for it's God who raised him from the dead. And so, all of that is designed to underscore the Christological depth of the theology of the early church, being right there from the very early days, in terms of what it is that the church is teaching and preaching.
Justin Bass: Truly incredible.
Mikel Del Rosario: That's amazing. That's amazing. Well Justin, we're coming to the end of our time here, but you've not only done all the research and looked into this on an academic level and as a historian, you've also been doing ministry in the Middle East, and engaging with Muslims. How has that impacted your understanding of thinking about the resurrection, and the way that you engage with people?
Justin Bass: Yeah, I've been blessed to be in the Middle East for the last thee years. I've been in Amman, Jordan as a professor, and also gone to Egypt and a few other places, and definitely been engaging with believers and non-believers alike, Muslims, and I would say the bedrock facts apply to everybody. So whether a person's atheist or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu, the bedrock facts are just facts. Facts are stubborn thing. So I think we should present that evidence.
But something in the Muslim world that I have found to be fascinating, and I've been able to experience personally, and maybe Dr. Bock has as well in his travels there, but the visions and the dreams that Jesus has been giving to, not just Muslims, but also Hindus, but just that part of the world, that North Africa, Middle East, India, those kind of areas of the world, you have this kind of … and it's been well researched as well … you have across the board independently people from those faiths having these visions or dreams that Jesus … even some in the States like the late Nabeel Qureshi, if you remember, he had his visions of Jesus in America. But people of that part of the world, independently having these very similar type dreams of this man in white. And he usually speaks in these dreams. It's usually Scripture.
So I got to meet some of these very people who converted out of Islam into Christianity, and I got to talk to them. I got to … like the Corinthians where Paul was telling them to investigate the eyewitness, I got to talk to them and hear these stories. And it just fascinates me that you don't hear this happening with other religions. You don't hear Muslims having visions or dreams of Krishna. Or Muslims having visions or dreams of Joseph Smith. No Muslim ever had a dream about Joseph Smith and said, "Oh, my goodness, Mormonism is true." Never happened.
And so it's fascinating to me that this does happen with Christianity, that across the board, these other religions are independently having visions and dreams of Jesus. I find this just further evidence that the Jesus that we're talking about did rise from the dead, and he's Lord of the world, and he's still alive, and he's still transforming people.
Mikel Del Rosario: When I hear these stories I think the principle of embarrassment applies as well, because these people, many of the take their lives into their hands to share their story. It's like, "Why would you make that up?"
Justin Bass: Not making it up.
Mikel Del Rosario: Why would you make that up?
Justin Bass: The very people I was talking to, they had to do this completely in private. If they did it in public, yes, their lives would … were in danger.
Mikel Del Rosario: Wow. Well Justin, thank you so much for being on the show today and sharing a little bit about your study and about your ministry. Thank you for writing the book. It was great. And thanks for being on the show.
Justin Bass: Blessed to be here.
Mikel Del Rosario: And Darrell, thank you for being on the show as well.
Darrell Bock: Glad to be here. I do tend to pop up now and again on the table.
Mikel Del Rosario: It's the first time I've had you remotely, and it's just weird. Well thank you so much for joining us on The Table today. If you have a topic that you'd like us to consider on the table, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And stay with us until next time when we see you again on The Table podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, and the Institute for Global Engagement.. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.