2012 A Sanity check : is being a Christian obviously wrong? (part 8 – History)

Christianity is true if and only if Jesus rose physically from the grave. That is an act in history. It’s not a philosophical idea it’s a matter of historical truth.

If I tell you “I had an avocado for breakfast yesterday.” how can you be sure? You can ask other people, you can look in my bin for the skin, you can open up my stomach and see if it’s still in there, you could see what I have today and the next few days to see if I regularly eat them, etc. Of course other people could be lying or mistaken, someone else could have put the skin in my bin, I could have eaten an avocado for lunch rather than breakfast, and I could have eaten an avocado for breakfast everyday for the last 10 years except yesterday.  Ultimately you have no way of being 100% certain. That is the nature of Historical truth. You can build a strong case for something and get to the point where you are prepared to make a decision based on that (ie write a historical paper or book, interpret other historical data in the light of your findings, or send someone to prison) but you cannot prove it 100%. That’s where the legal concept of “reasonable doubt” comes in.

The other thing to say is that there is obviously a link between the level of certainty and the strength of action taken. If I say I had avocado for breakfast you might believe me simply on the basis of my testimony as it probably doesn’t make much difference to your thoughts and actions. Maybe you make a mental note to give me one when I come to stay the night in a few weeks time. The cost of getting it wrong is about £1 to buy the avocado and 1 minute to pick it up from the supermarket on your weekly shop. If however a murder trial hinges on what I had for breakfast you would need to marshal a lot of evidence before putting me away for life.

So what about the resurrection? The extra challenges are:

1) it is alleged to have taken place 2000 years ago so we are looking much further back than just yesterday

2) It is totally out of the ordinary. Not many people eat avocadoes for breakfast but even less, if any, rise from the dead!

3) If it is true it will cost me more than just £1. It requires me to give my whole life for it.

So what is the evidence?

1) The martyrdom of most of the early eye witnesses

If you tell me that Jesus rose from the dead I may well be so convinced that I die for it. Many have done so throughout history but many have also died for falsehoods. This is not though what happened to the early disciples of Jesus. They did not die for something they believed but something they had seen. There is a difference. They lived with Jesus and walked and talked and ate with him for three years. They then saw him die by public execution but were prepared to die for the convection that they had walked and talked and ate with him after he came back to life.

2) The empty tomb

The body was never presented. If you wanted to stop Christianity which is based on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead then all you need to do is display his dead body. To my knowledge that was never done. If the dispels had the body then why on earth did they die for their proclamation that he had risen from the dead? If the authorities had it why didn’t they display it?

3) The written accounts

We have several documents that purport to be from eye witness accounts of the events. Johns gospel is an account of what he “saw and heard and touched”. Luke’s is a collection of evidence so that his friend can be sure of what he has been told. Now these could be biased propaganda, or mischievous forgeries but the evidence does not persuade me in that direction.

I find myself asking what more could I expect than four well preserved documents. It’s amazing that there are four of them and amazing that they do not seem to have been significantly changed as they were copied and passed down over almost 2000 years.

But should they be ruled out because they are biased? No court testimony is treated that way. In fact if the people who wrote these testimonies about Jesus did not believe him to be the son of God it would call their testimony into question. How can you know all that about him and yet not love, follow and worship him? It wouldn’t add up.

Remember I am not arguing here for the resurrection, just checking that it is rational to hold the view that Jesus rose from the dead and consistent with my understanding of history. In short, the resurrection of Jesus passes my historical sanity check. There is though, one more sanity check that I need to do but I’ll save that for next time.

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