Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus Died The Apostles Lied? A Look At Another Claim Against the Resurrection

Preliminary Note

This article is dealing with the claim the Apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Those who think I am overlooking the concept the Apostles were deluded should see the article HERE where I discussed some issues.

Looking at the Claim that the Apostles Lied

A theory given by certain cynical individuals runs along these lines: Jesus died, and the Apostles deliberately claimed Jesus rose from the dead while knowing He did not.  These individuals will argue that because Miracles cannot happen and it is not probable that it was a delusion, it is most likely the work of a deliberate deception.

I find this theory interesting because many of those I have encountered who use it argue that the people of the Middle East in the First Century AD were so primitive that they believed some (hitherto unexplained) scientific phenomenon was a miracle.

Yet for this belief to have continued on for two thousand years, it's not enough to claim over a billion stupid people to explain this.  To continue fooling people (including individuals who are intelligent), the people who created such a deception would have to be quite brilliant in order to create something that people would die for or radically change their life for and never be detected as false.

So the question arises, if we are to consider the charge of deception: Were the apostles stupid and superstitious peasants?  Or were they evil masterminds who perpetuated a fraud which lasts until this very day?  They couldn't be both.

What The Resurrection Means.  What Apostle Means.

We need to be clear about what this allegation means.  Unlike certain wishy-washy Christians who try to reduce the Resurrection to some sort of "feeling" that Jesus' teachings would live on, the Christian belief is that Jesus was literally executed by the Romans and rose from the dead.

The Apostles were those who witnessed the risen Christ and testified they saw Him.

Therefore, when dealing with the idea that the Apostles lied, it means they did not see the risen Christ, yet claimed they did see Him.

I've dealt with Deluded Apostles already, so now we need to consider the option of them not being fools, but knaves who deliberately created a lie which led thousands of people to martyrdom.

Considering Some Objections To This Concept

If we are to give the "conspiracy to lie" theory any credibility, it needs to provide the evidence to back up what was asserted in its claim.  The basic idea is that the Apostles knew Jesus died, but said He rose again contrary to what they knew.  However, there are several problems such a theory needs to address.

Let's consider the following:

1) Cui bono?  (Who benefits?)  If the Apostles deliberately lied, what did they hope to gain from it?  We have no evidence that any of the Apostles recanted what they believed.  They were tortured and reviled for what they preached.  Nor do we have any evidence of the apostles receiving material gain.  They were not wealthy men who stayed at home while exhorting followers to provide their every need and luxury.  They travelled and died in areas all over the Roman Empire preaching this doctrine.  Such a devotion does not sound like a fraud.

I have run across some who have tried to say that yes, the apostles lied but dying for a lie was not unreasonable because "who know what religious fanatics are thinking?"  This is a contradiction in terms however.  If the apostles believed what they taught to the point it encouraged "fanaticism" in them, then clearly it was not a lie which they fabricated.  If it was a lie, it could not encourage religious fanaticism in the people who knew it was a lie.  If someone else, other than the apostles invented this lie, where are the objections from those who knew differently?

2) The unanimity of the Apostles on the subject.  As I said above, the Apostles didn't just remain in one place.  They travelled widely in spreading the Gospel message.  Now in the days without immediate communication, they could have gone far and wide and questions asked by the people preached to would doubtlessly have gone beyond what the Apostles could anticipate for a fabrication they worked out on their own.  if they lied about Christ, one would expect a deviation of facts in the stories told as each Apostle had to improvise.

Instead we have a largely consistent agreement on the facts.  The different accounts have some variations, but only on small details and are consistent with individuals emphasizing what stuck most in their mind.  Scriptures remain very consistent across wide areas of the empire… we need to remember that before the days of the printing press, all copies were made by hand.  On occasion we see copyist errors, but no divergence on the message itself.

3) The Sincerity of the Apostles.  This is the flip side of #1 above.  We all know of those false religions where the founders gained materially from the religion they started.  Even in Christianity, we know of individuals who have abused their ministry for personal gain.  Did the founders of the religion do these things however?

However, the Apostles did not act for material gain.  They travelled, preached and eventually died because they believed what they taught was of vital importance for everyone.  Consider the words of Philippians 1:

19 Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Disagree with Paul if you like, call him insane if you like, but this is a man who believes that to live is a mission to serve Christ and to die is to gain by being with Him forever.

5) The Body of Jesus would be a very permanent way to disprove the conspiracy.  If Jesus was still in the tomb, why was it not produced to prove them liars?  If it was no longer in the tomb, how did it leave the tomb?  Are we to believe a band of Jesus' followers who were in hiding snuck past armed guards and moved a large rock, stealing the body without a trace?  Would the Romans have tolerated such a lawbreaking on their watch.

Since the Apostles proclaimed the message of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, those who wanted to disprove Jesus would have been in a good position to do so.  Their adversaries would have been in position to root them out and disprove them by showing discrepancies from the witnesses who saw Christ.

The Lacking Piece of the Puzzle

The accusation that the apostles must have lied either requires being backed by evidence or else is based on a prior conviction that it could not have been true and therefore must have had another cause.

However evidence that the apostles lied is lacking, and the behavior of the apostles seems to indicate that they believed they had seen Jesus alive.  Considering the challenges against Christianity revolve around demanding physical proof for spiritual things, one would think it reasonable to insist on physical proof for assertions of a physical explanation.

Because evidence is lacking to prove any such point, it is not reasonable to claim that the apostles must have lied.  One is still free to believe it of course, but it must be recognized that such a belief is merely a personal opinion.

This is not the Argument from Silence fallacy.  Christians don't argue "You can't prove [A], therefore [B]."  They believe the witness of the Apostles was credible, while the claims against are not credible.  Anyone wishing to credibly argue otherwise needs to demonstrate why their own claims are believable and those of the Apostles are not.

However, instead of providing this credibility, the attacks I have seen all revolve around "it's impossible, so there must be another reason for it."  This assumes as proven however what needs to be proved (that it is impossible).  Neither I nor any other Christian are irrational for refusing to accept a claim which has no more basis than personal opinion that miracles are impossible.

"More Probable"?

Now, if one wishes to show misrepresentation, one must remember certain things must be demonstrated under law.  I find those guidelines useful to assess what needs to be proven with this claim:

  1. What was said was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts.
  2. An intentional, or fraudulent, misrepresentation occurs when a defendant knows that he or she is making a false statement of material fact.
  3. the defendant intended for the plaintiff to rely on the false statement.
  4. the plaintiff ordinarily needs to prove that he or she justifiably relied on the defendant’s statement
  5. Finally, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured as a result of the misrepresentation.

Since a lie is defined as an intentionally false statement, the charge of the lie is to say two things: that the statement made was false, AND that the false statement was made deliberately.

So, first of all someone who would accuse the apostles of misleading others needs to prove that what they said was a deliberate misrepresentation.  Second, that the apostles knew they were making such a statement.  Third, that the apostles intended those they preached to would rely on their claims.  Fourth, that the ones preached to were justified in relying on what the apostles said.  Finally that the believers were injured by the misrepresentation.

Points 3, 4 and 5 rely on points one and two being established as true.  So, to claim a lie, the statemtn that Jesus rose from the dead needs to be shown to be a deliberate misrepresentation, and the Apostles need to be shown as knowing the statement was false.

Unless those points are proven, the claim that the Apostles lied is a merely a statement with no basis in fact.

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