Sunday, November 6, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: The historicity of 1 Corinthians 15

A little while ago, I promised to do a post on 1 Cor 15. Well- that promise has come true! However- before I do so, I would like to justify myself on the lack of attention I've given to the empty tomb. You see... I just find it hard to care about it. I mean sure, 75% of scholars think it's historical- but so what. In a field filled with very conservative Christians (Like that one I make fun of here regularly), 25% is a fairly impressive number. Plus, even if the empty tomb were most certainly historical- that still doesn't prove that God raised Jesus from the dead. There are theories on how the body could of been moved or stolen. Anyways, I'll blog about the empty tomb on another Sunday. For now, I will discuss the historicity of 1 Cor 15.

For those that don't know, 1 Cor 15 is our earliest historical source that documents the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. However- most skeptics are rather uncomfortable with the fact that of all six appearances Jesus made, three include more than one witness. Most NT scholars take them pretty much at face value. I, however, have recently become very skeptical. My skepticism of the creed, however, did not occur when I started researching this passage; on the contrary- I found out that the passage could be as early as a few years after the event! No- my skepticism of the creed actually started to develop a week ago, when I started to research the Paranormal.

The first thing I noticed when doing my research was that most people who believe in "entities" (ghosts, angels, etc) relied on the testimony of witness'. They would spend most of their effort writing down witness reports, in order to validate their claims. However- most skeptics, like the members of CSICOP, have a far better approach- they investigate the origin and development of the belief. See, unlike in biblical studies, psychology plays a major role in investigating supernatural "appearances"- and if there is one thing psychology has proven- it's that humans are lousy witness'.

For one thing, we almost always interpret our evidence in accordance to our worldview. For example, if one already believe in ghosts, than a cold spot will be interpreted as evidence for a ghost. Also, in accordance with the above point, we also tend to alter the evidence we have in our heads to match the phenomena we are trying to prove. For example, Person A may see something fly in front of a window very quickly. Later on, when they recall that moment- they may recall it as an angel instead of, say, a bird. Perhaps they do this because they are long time angel believers- that are looking for evidence to prove their already held belief.

In addition to this- one may come to the false belief that other people near him also saw the entity. Although it sounds odd to say it- there are many paranormal cases in which many people will claim to see the same thing when they, in fact, did not see the same thing. This can be determined by interviewing the witness' individually, and seeing how similar their combined testimonies actually are. One example would be the "Timor revival", in which many miracles were reported, many of which including multiple witness'. However- when the witness' were interviewed independently, it became obvious that they had observed no such thing. Many other excellent examples can be found in Joe Nickell's book Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons and other alien beings.

So, my critique of 1 Cor 15 is that, even if it accurately preserves what the witness' claimed to have seen- it says little about what they actually saw. As mentioned earlier, multiple people have claimed to see the same thing, even though they did not. What makes the disciples any different than these cases is beyond me.

HT to Richard Carrier for the story of the Timor Revival


  1. Very interesting, Andy. Thanks for drawing my attention to the TImor revival. I pretty much agree with your conclusions. Arguments from group appearances are becoming much less persuasive to me.

    FYI, for the past two days I've been trying to defend both hallucination theory from a Christian and the historicty of the original appearance reports from a skeptic on Victor Reppert's blog. Someone brought up the alleged miracles of Sathya Saia Baba. Apparently, eyewitnesses claimed he raised someone from the dead. I think that's the kind of thing you're interested in.

  2. Saia Baba is most certainly the type of person I am interested in! I am aware that he runs around claiming to do miracles- but I never heard the "raise from the dead" claim!

    By the way- just took a peek at the discussion on the resurrection. I'm amazed that you bothered posting anything at all there!

    When I start hearing apologists use the "hallucinations can't eat" line, I honestly cry on the inside. I guess some christians just outright refuse to understand alternative theories. Sigh...

    Reppert has always been amongst my favorite christians bloggers- but many of his commenters are of the damn same quality as loftus'

  3. Yeah, I like Reppert too. This was my first experience commenting on his blog for an extended period. I found it a way friendlier place than Loftus' blog.

    BTW, I'm not so sure about this: "Furthermore- according to Habermas' silly appeal to authority, many (if not most) scholars actually disagree with NT Wright, and believe that Jesus resurrection was not corporeal, but spiritual- not requiring an empty tomb."

    I just scanned Habermas' article and couldn't find what you're referring to. There is a part where he says many scholars think Paul believed in a transformed body, which is somehow spiritual but still physical.

  4. As much as I hate to admit it- I was wrong. I made the mistake when I read this part:

    "with perhaps even a majority favoring the position that, according to the New Testament writers, Jesus appeared in a transformed body."

    I must have thought, upon reading this, that Habermas was trying to make a distinction between the Wrightian "transformed body" view that requires an empty tomb, and the various liberal "spiritual body" views that require no empty tomb. It seemed that way when I read it, because, as an apologetic piece, it seemed unnecessary to add that part in unless it had an apologetic payoff (like proving the empty tomb was historical).

    However- my reading was most certainly wrong. I needed to make the opening paragraph a bit fatter- so I added an incorrect fact to it, and didn't double check it to make sure it was accurate. It's embarrassing to admit, since I usually try to keep my stuff at least factually correct. After all, "its okay to differ in our conclusions, but not to differ in our facts". Sorry about this.

    BTW, according to James McGrath, James Dunn does believe that the resurrection requires no empty tomb :)

  5. No worries, happens to the best of us.