November 26, 2020

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible- by John Polkinghorne, Chapter 7- Cross and Resurrection

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible — by John Polkinghorne

Chapter 7- Cross and Resurrection

Polkinghorne begins this chapter by observing that all the Gospels are in the active voice in the course of Jesus’ public ministry.  This relates to his authoritative words and powerful deeds.  However, when the narratives reach the final week in Jerusalem, the voice changes and the verbs become passive.  Things happen to Jesus, as he is subjected to an unjust trial and handed over to suffering and death.  The Gospels all attach profound significance to this last week.

Polkinghorne also notes what a tortuous means of death the Romans had devised in crucifixion.  Death was by asphyxiation when the person could no longer raise themselves up against the nails in the feet to take a breath.  It was ironically cruel in that the stronger, mentally and physically, the person was the longer it took to die.  It has been said some would linger days in perpetual pain, unless the Roman soldiers became tired of the sport and broke their legs with a sledgehammer.

A first century Jew would have interpreted crucifixion as a sign of divine rejection, as it says in Deuteronomy 21:23 that “cursed is anyone hung on a tree”.  It is hard for us to imagine today, where the cross is a religious symbol, how much the word was regarded with sinister horror in that ancient Roman world.  There is no depiction of the crucified Christ in Christian art until the centuries in which crucifixion was no longer a contemporary reality.  Jesus’ contemporaries would have simply concluded that he was a Messianic pretender (one of many at that time) whose grandiose claims had proved to be empty.

So what explains the frightened disciples’ transformation into fearless proclaimers of the Lordship of Jesus?  Why wouldn’t stealing the body and asserting he rose from the dead have worked for the dozens of other Messianic pretenders at the time?  Or that their fond memories of “teacher” morphed into the legend that he rose from the dead?  Why did that just work for only the followers of Jesus?  Polkinghorne says we need to investigate whether there is evidence that might rightly motivate us to believe that Jesus being raised from the dead to a life of unending glory was indeed the case.  I agree we should undertake an investigation of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead based on what we can glean from historical documents.  But let’s not pretend there is anything objective about this investigation.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, is working their own agenda here.  The religious skeptic no less than the Christian apologist.  And it begins right at the first assessment of the extant documentation.  Because no non-Christian Roman historian or politician has much to say about the Jesus cult, much less anything favorable, then that means the written record we do have isn’t “sufficiently attested” by supporting documentation.  To which I call bullshit.  Yes, my belief in Jesus’ resurrection is just that—a religious belief.  I cannot “prove” it in any sense that word has now come to mean.  And yes, the burden of proof is on me, and my fellow co-religionists, since we are making an extraordinary claim.  But the New Testament is as a “historical” a collection of documents as any other ancient collection or document, and you, the skeptics, are just going to have to live with that.  No amount of “Jesus Seminar” shenanigans or “liberal scholarship” is going to undo that fact any more than any amount of apologetics is going to provide evidence that demands (a favorable) verdict.  It was then, still is, and always will be, a matter of faith and that is that. /rant off/

So is it a reasonable well motivated belief?  Polkinghorne points out the earliest statement of the Resurrection that we have occurs in the Pauline writings.  Writings, which by the way, predate the Gospels, and date back to at least the year 55.  Paul reminds the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Papyrus 46- Part of 2 Corinthians dated to 175AD

When Paul refers to “For what I received…” he is referring to teaching he received after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  That would take the quoted testimony back to within a very few years (maybe as little as 3 years) of the events themselves.  This antiquity receives some confirmation in the use of the Aramaic “Cephas” for Peter and the reference to the apostles as “the twelve”, usages that soon died out in the early Christian community.  So much for the usual canard that the Resurrection was a “later” addition to the Gospels.  It clearly was there from the beginning.

Polkinghorne then turns to the Gospels themselves.  As anyone knows who has any kind of familiarity with the Gospels, they do not harmonize.  The skeptics make much of Mark not having an appearance story; verses 16:9-20 are known to be second century additions. Nevertheless, Mark twice records the promise that the risen Christ will meet with disciples in Galilee (14:28 and 16:7).  To me, personally, the lack of harmonization is further evidence that the early Christians took the transmittal of the truth of the basic fact of the Resurrection seriously.  They preserved the differences, they did not conflate them, which is just what honest people would do.  Honest people who were trustworthy and can be believed.  Polkinghorne says:

At first sight it might seem that we are simply confronted with a bunch of variously made-up tales, constructed by different Christian communities as ways of expressing their conviction that in some way Jesus continued to be their living Lord.  However, there is an unexpected and persistent feature of the stories that persuades me that their historicity needs to be taken seriously.  This feature is that initially it was difficult to recognize the risen Christ for who he was… Most of the stories climax in a moment of recognition when it dawns on the participants who they are with.  This seems to me to be a very unlikely feature to be found in a collection of independently made-up tales.  I believe that it is an actual historical reminiscence of what those encounters were like, and so I conclude that the appearance stories have real evidential value and need to be taken with great seriousness.

The second line of evidence Polkinghorne points out is the story of the discovery of the empty tomb.  All though there are differences in detail, they all agree that the tomb was empty.  It is striking that the initial reaction of the women was not joy but fear.  They were not expecting resurrection.  However, he points out there are a number of problems that need to be discussed before the value of the empty tomb stories can be properly assessed.

The first is whether there was, in fact, an identifiable tomb at all.  It was common for the Romans to bury criminals in unmarked tombs or just leave their bodies to eaten by scavengers.  Yet we know from archaeological evidence that this was not an invariable practice.  That all four Gospels speak of Joseph of Arimathea as providing a tomb is a compelling reason.  He is otherwise an unknown figure of no significance in the early Christian movement and the best reason for his association with this courageous and honorable act is surely to believe he actually did it.

A second problem is that Paul makes no reference to the empty tomb in his epistles.  Yet these are occasional writings for specific purposes, not the histories of everything.  Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul did say Jesus was buried.  He would not have believed Jesus was alive, if in fact, his body was moldering in a tomb.

The early controversy was not over whether there was an empty tomb, but why it was empty.  The accusation was that the disciples stole the body, or the women went to the wrong tomb.  Polkinghorne says:

It seems to me that the idea of apostolic deceit is simply incredible in view of their later steadfast Christian confession, even to the point of martyrdom.  Equally unconvincing is the suggestion that the women just make a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.  The authorities would then have soon acted to quash the troublesome Christian movement by exhibiting the real tomb with its corpse inside, if that had been the case.

As I have heard it said, “Plenty of people will die for what they believe to be the truth, no one dies for what they know to be a lie”.

But the most powerful argument for the authenticity of the empty tomb is that it is the women who are the witnesses.  In the ancient world women were not regarded as being reliable witnesses; their testimony was not accepted in a court of law.  So anyone making up a tale would make sure it was men who played the key role in it.  The women are there, I believe, because they were indeed the ones who made the startling discovery.  Polkinghorne concludes:

There is, therefore, evidential motivation for believing that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.  How one weighs that evidence will, however, also depend on how such a counter-intuitive belief (in fact as unexpected in the first century as it is in ours) might be accommodated within one’s world view of the nature of reality.  Those who are committed to an unrevisable belief in the absolute uniformity of nature will be driven to invoke the category of legend as the only way to interpret the gospel stories.  However, to take this stance is to approach the scripture with a mind already closed to what it has to say.


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    Butterflies live for a short time to live, a bit like sparrows who toil not neither do they spin but grace us with their presence.
    The joy of watching their flight can bring chills of joy.
    They know not why they live, perhaps we know why we live?. Sometime we miss the mark and have to have friends to drag us back to reality.
    As we approach Lent this coming week I hope we will all be in accord to focus to the events of Lent/Easter. The sorrow and the joy. Let us be as one in our considerations.
    Pre Easter/Lent gives us such scope for broadening our spiritual horizons.
    Not a time of introspection but of broadening our faith and supporting our companions on the way as they too look to the Resurrection.
    I don’t often comment like this, I leave the deep theology to you experts.
    We have one goal.

    My butterfly haiku

    bright wings catch my eye
    who is she snatching nectar
    ‘monarch’ of all reigns

    Blessing to all,

    • –> “Butterflies live for a short time to live, a bit like sparrows who toil not neither do they spin but grace us with their presence.”

      I remember thinking, as I watched the documentary “March of the Penguins,” what is the purpose of these animals? Their life is an odd cycle of birth and journey, mating and death. Oh, and apparently they’re also the food source for other animals. Repeat ad nauseam.

      On the one hand, if there is a Creator who created them…Why? They live in this little patch of earth and have this odd life-cycle that’s pretty much meaningless.

      On the *other* hand, if one is to believe in evolution…How in the world did this species evolve into this odd life-cycle which seems at times utterly brutal and appears to have no evolutionary logic?

      Maybe it’s as you say. Maybe their purpose is but to grace us with their presence. Maybe God created them just to be discovered and have a documentary made about how bizarre their life is, just so we (I) could ponder those two questions.

  2. It seems to me that the idea of apostolic deceit is simply incredible in view of their later steadfast Christian confession, even to the point of martyrdom.

    I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

    But the martyrdom of the Apostles is religious legend, isn’t it, a matter of faith rather than history? In which case we would be using as support for the historicity of the empty tomb a religious legend that itself requires faith, and lacks solid historical basis. As for the women at the tomb: I think the argument that since the controversy reported in the gospels is over how Jesus’ body was removed, rather than whether it was missing at all, it must have been missing is to start from an initial acceptance of he basic historicity of the stories in the gospels, which again is to start from a basis of faith rather than history. There is circular reasoning involved in this, using as evidence parts of a witness which is itself entirely in question.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Robert: While the evidence of martyrdom is far better for some of the apostles than others, the evidence for Peter is particularly strong. The earliest evidence is found in John 21:18–19, which was purportedly written about 30 years after Peter’s death. Even Bart Ehrman, in his book Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, agrees that Peter is being told he will die as a martyr. Other evidence for Peter’s martyrdom can be found in early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, Tertullian and more. The early, consistent and unanimous testimony is that Peter died as a martyr.

    • But let’s assume that at least some of the Apostles were actually martyred, as seems likely to me. That is in no way evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb. It is evidence that they believed in the resurrection of Jesus, perhaps on the basis of the experiences that Paul gives an account of in 1 Corinthians, wherein he makes no mention of the empty tomb. The stories of the empty tomb may have come later, and been given credence by the overwhelming experience of the apostolic community that Jesus had been raised: “Since he is alive, body and spirit, since he was raised, we experienced this, the tomb must have been empty, and the stories must be true!”

      • Mike the Geologist says

        Agreed, Robert. It is more of an evidence against the assertion of legendary accretion of Jesus’ resurrection and divinity. It also tends to buttress the “eye-witness” aspect of the Gospels, even though it was orally transmitted for a century before being written. Bottom line I’m getting at: the earliest disciples, including the apostles, believed Jesus rose from the dead. Whethen one believes their witness or not, that witness was there from the start.

  3. senecagriggs says

    If Jesus wasn’t physically dead and then resurrected from physical death – then Christianity is just another religion that offers no ultimate hope.

    And here the Evangelicals stand.

    • And the Catholics. And the Orthodox. And most mainliners.

    • If Jesus wasn’t physically dead and then resurrected from physical death – then Christianity is just another religion that offers no ultimate hope.

      Disagree very, very strongly. Perhaps for you, but not for me.

      • Michael Bell says

        I think I am with you on this point Stuart, but perhaps you could elaborate?

        • That Christianity is worthless and offers no hope. It becomes the religion about ultimate personal salvation. It ignores the corporate, humanist, worldly aspect. It ignores the Gospel. It becomes about nothing more than get out of hell for eternity. Worthless. Pathetic.

          Jesus could be rotting in the grave right now, but everything he told us to do, everything he did…means so much to the world, to the poor, to the enslaved, to the downtrodden. What good is it to tell someone dying of starvation that good news, Jesus resurrected so we have hope, and that’s all that matters…not to follow the example of a man who wept and loved others.

          That…god, mentioned above, is the one who says to have no other gods before me. The one that conveniently ignores the first half of that statement, that he is the God of the poor, the enslaved, the losers. This makes a religion out of doing nothing for the least of these.

          I can’t disagree strongly enough.

      • For him, for me – and for Paul, for what that’s worth.

        Yes, Seneca and I agree on something. Try not to faint. 😉

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And here the Evangelicals stand.

      And Here We Go Again…

  4. john barry says

    My pursuit of knowledge and questioning mind has led me down many paths mostly circular. I use many sources of knowledge to arrive at my decisions and beliefs.
    Why were women the first to find the empty tome? I learned from the esteemed fifth grade scholar, my friend Joey “Kangaroo” Hunter that the three faster modes of communication is (1) Telephone (2) Telegraph (3) Tell a Woman. The message the women sent out literally changed the history of the world and they could not even read or write. My research has led me to know that neither the telephone or telegraph had been invented yet but as usual the women were the ones doing the work not hiding.
    Also as alluded to in the article, the men probably would have not gone to the right tomb as they certainly would not stop and ask for directions. they might not have notice the stone had been moved.
    I am still trying to validate Polkinghorne’s work . I have recently become aware of what a quark is and it is not the sound a duck with a lisp makes which was my previous theory. I will continue to push myself intellectually. I am currently working on a recap of Quantum Leap reruns hoping that somehow it will help me understand Quantum physics in the meantime I will just agree with Polkinghorne and his views on the subject.
    As usual thanks for the article, really enjoy. Makes my Thursday better as before the most exciting thing on Thursday is the new supermarket ad came out.

    • ” the men probably would have not gone to the right tomb as they certainly would not stop and ask for directions. they might not have notice the stone had been moved.”

      OTOH, the pre-built tomb of a member of the Sanhedrin would probably be pretty easy to spot, especially with all the weapons and equipment the guard detail left behind in their panic. 😉

      • flatrocker says

        Even if they had made it to the tomb, it probably still wouldn’t have worked out as their attention would have been riveted on all the man-toys strewn about.

        • You jest – as did i. 😉 But in all seriousness, the locaction of the tomb was probably no big secret. Jerusalem was not a large city even by ancient standards. Like most “small towns”, everybody probably knew everything about who was who and what was where. If the disciples didn’t know, the people they were hiding out with would have.

  5. First, there is no such thing as “liberal” scholarship, or “conservative scholarship” for that matter. There is only good scholarship and bad scholarship.

    The experience of the Resurrection is not a historical datum to be assented to like Christopher Columbus discovering America in 1492. It is a act of faith, an experience to be had. As far as I’m concerned all these apologists trying to “prove” the resurrection are wasting everybody’s time.

    Two quotes, then-

    “And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted”

    – Matthew 28:17 KJV

    “What good is it, that Christ was born of Sweet Marie
    if Christ not be born of me?”

    -Meister Eckhart

    • +1 +1 +1

    • That’s very postmodern of you (which I guess is appropriate for this watering hole), and I’ve been there, but am coming back a little bit.

      There is some space between “we can’t know anything” and “it’s rock-solid certain”, and BOTH ends are fundamentalist, to my mind.

      That said, practically speaking I would say that it’s true that we don’t live our Monday mornings on the basis of a lengthy theoretical reasoning about the historicity of Jesus.

      • Ronald Avra says

        Very good, Ben

      • –> “…we don’t live our Monday mornings on the basis of a lengthy theoretical reasoning about the historicity of Jesus.”

        What?!?! Oh, crap! Maybe that’s why I’m so depressed!!!


      • Ben, I should have known I couldn’t do a quick in and out on a subject as fraught as this.

        I’m not “postmodern” at all (whatever that means). I’m not a fundamentalist (whatever that means). My views are fully informed by thirty years of reading widely (and deeply I hope) in historical critical scholarship. I guess you could say I’m what happens when you go through all that and come out the other side. I think the Resurrection was more an event in the consciousness of the disciples than it was an event in space-time. Which is why the accounts vary so much. Which is why the experience is available to us two thousand years later.

        When we read the Bible (personally especially the Gospel of Mark) we can enter into its consciousness by the power of the active imagination through which it comes alive. I’ve had enough of doctrine and theology. There are certainly historical questions that are compelling and debatable. But my experience of the divine at this point is almost entirely aesthetic. I offer no justification for this nor do I expect anyone to follow me down this path.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      First, there is no such thing as “liberal” scholarship, or “conservative scholarship” for that matter. There is only good scholarship and bad scholarship.

      Which these days means “FOX News or Fake News”.

    • Stephen – yes, exactly.

      Mike, no offense intended, but there is no other documentation to support the historicity of Christ’s resurrection. I personally believe that it happened. But,mas one who trained as a historian, the Gospels and other NT documents are not and never were intended to be assertions of objective truth *as we understand that now.* The ancient wotld wss not our world; there was no nightly news, or really, news media 8f any kind.

      Most of us automatically default to a journalistic mindset whenever we think of accounts of events. The resurrection accounts are meant to *bear witness,* and not as reports of objective facts asvwe understand that today. The Gospels themselves are pretty clearly aimed at “having faith in his name.”

      They are incredibly important *historic* documents of faith, but the way you are using the word “historical” is misleading. Because there just aren’t any other contemporary documents that can be correlated with the resurrection accounts of the Gospels.

      Again, i believe it happened. But it is about faith and belief, until such time as we actually find the historical documentation, which will likely never occur. (B/c so much from the ancient world is lost, *not* because it did or didn’t happen.)

      Lest you think I’m one of those awful “liberalsm” hey… i believe in what is stated in both the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.

      • Apologies for typos! On phone.

        • Mike the Geologist says

          Numo: no offense is taken. I always appreciate pushback on my posts as they invariably sharpen my thinking. I will give you a more detailed response once I get home from work. To your point that the Gospels are not “historical documents” in the sense that they are not primary source documents and are not attested by otther primary source documents; I acknowledge you are correct. However, that is, in my opinion, only part of the argument. I will expand furhter later. Peace for now, and thanks for your comment.

          • Mike – cool! Looking forward to your thoughts and observations. 🙂

            • Mike the Geologist says

              Numo: Your argument about the Gospels not being “historical” documents are made from the standpoint of a narrow technical and academic standpoint of the professional historian. I acknowledge the Gospels are not journalistic descriptions of objective truths as we understand that in modern society. They followed the agenda of “written that you might believe, and believing have life in his name”. As you noted, they are “bearing witness” to what was commonly believed in the early Church. So I am using the term “historical” in a more popular sense, and am, admittedly, employing rhetoric. What I am really making the argument for is the… what word should we use… reliability, authenticity, convincing, believability, trustworthiness… You get the point.

              The methods used by contemporary biblical scholars are actually borrowed from the approach to ancient texts regularly employed by secular historians. Gary Habermas ( notes these reliability or authenticity criteria are:

              (1) Early evidence is strongly preferred above later contributions. Even the difference of a decade or two can be crucial. With regard to the historical Jesus, any material between 30 and 50 AD would be exemplary, a time period highly preferred by scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar. I’ve already given the example of the list of Jesus’ resurrection appearances supplied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement is based is dated to the 30s AD.

              (2) Whenever these early sources are also derived from eyewitnesses who actually participated in some of the events, this provides one of the strongest evidences possible. Historian David Hackett Fischer dubs this “the rule of immediacy” and terms it “the best relevant evidence.” When scholars have ancient sources that are both very early and based on eyewitness testimony, they have a combination that is very difficult to dismiss. In the previous example, one reason critical scholars take Paul’s testimony so seriously is that his writings provide both a very early date as well as eyewitness testimony to what Paul believed was a resurrection appearance of Jesus. This is even conceded by atheist scholar Michael Martin.

              (3) Independent attestation of a report by more than one source is another chief indication that that a particular claim may be factual. This is only applicable to the NT if you concede the gospels and letters are different sources. There are few and late outside sources outside of the NT itself, I concede.

              (4) A rather skeptical criterion of authenticity is termed dissimilarity or discontinuity. Although it is frequently criticized, it continues to be a very popular tool for determining the historicity of some of Jesus’ teachings. Here it is thought that a particular saying can be attributed to someone only if it cannot be plausibly accounted for as the words or teaching of other contemporary sources. For Jesus, it must be determined if one of the Gospel teachings can be attributed to either Jewish thought or to the exhortations of the early church.

              (5) Another criterion applied to Gospel studies is the presence of Aramaic words, substrata, environment, or other indications of a Palestinian origin. Perhaps when these conditions appear in the Gospels, we are looking through a window into the actual teachings of Jesus.

              (6) Coherence is a more general criterion. If a purported event or teaching fits well with what is already known concerning other surrounding occurrences and teachings of Jesus, it may be said to have a basis in history.

              (7) The principle of embarrassment, negative report, or surprise is indicated by the presence of disparaging remarks made by the author about him/herself, another individual, or event concerning which the author is friendly and has a vested interest. This was discussed by Polkinghorne in the post; Peter’s denial, the testimony of women.

              8) The criterion of enemy attestation is satisfied when an antagonistic source expresses agreement regarding a person or event when it is contrary to their best interests to do so. In the case of Jesus’ miracles, an example of enemy attestation is provided by the repeated Gospel testimony that those who opposed Jesus either witnessed these acts and failed to challenge them (Mark 3:1-6), or attributed them to Satan (Mark 3:22-27), thus acknowledging these events. Marcus Borg points out that this is one of the reasons that makes it “virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist.”

              So again as I said in the post, this will always be a matter of faith, but as Polkinghorne calls it, belief in the resurrection based on the New Testament is a reasonable well motivated belief and so he concludes that the appearance stories have real evidential value and need to be taken with great seriousness. I very much agree with him.

              • john barry says

                Mike the G Man, excellent post, even I understood it and I am also known as “the lowest common denominator” in many circles. I think that is a reference to my 2 years of business math training.
                thanks again for your effort in posting weekly.

              • Mike, i don’t have time for a longer response just now, but have to say that I’m bafgled by your use of both “nartow” and “technical” to describe the approach i outlined, which is the basic methodology of historical studies and *so* many other disciplines, the sciences included.

                I think you might be making the terms mean what you would like them to mean, but? It is entirely possible to look at the NT as “historical” simply b/c of what it is *about* – early Christian beliefs, and some aspects of the historical development of early Christianity. Same with the literary aspects.

                But the thing is, as with the ecumenical creeds, what was most important to the authors is belief. (The word “creed” comes from “credo” -Latin for “I/we believe” – which is all central to the development of Christianity, not whether or not everything contained in the creeds can be objectively proven. None of it can, not one item.)

                I think that, for example, “fruit” is a generic category. But there’s a huge difference between citrus fruits and, say, peaches or apples.

                Honestly, it’s hard for me to understand why anyone would want to try and prove the historicity of the resurrection. It can’t really be understood in that way. A person can believe in it, not believe in it or be on the fence, but i feel like the attempt to force it into the category usually occupied by scientific research is, at best, misguided.

                It might help to understand that i come from a Lutheran background, even though i spent decades in the evangelical world. I just don’t think that “proof” is important to people from RC,Orthodox, Episcopalian or Lutheran backgrounds – generally speaking – in the same way that it is for evangelicals. I think that can be partly, though not entirely, explained by the lack of deep background in church history that characterizes most – though not all – evangelical denominations in the US. In other countries, this can and often does look different.

                It all reminds me of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”and similar.

                • In regards to the gospels as history, I think Mike is simply saying they are presented as such in their context, and that we need to be careful that we are reading them in that light, reading them properly, and not trying to throw them out simply because they do conform them to present day communication methods.

                  Also, there may be a difference in how you and Mike are using the term “belief” (or “faith”). It is not the sense of something built on a lack of evidence, but more of a trust/confidence with what has been shown/revealed.

                  In regards to the creeds, of course the creedal aspect is partly built upon the creedal (or pre-creedal) statements in Scripture, such as 1 Cor 1, which do point to eyewitnesses/evidence.

                  In regards to the RC, EO, Episc., Lutheran, etc…, there is a sense with many there (or course there are evangelicals within Anglicanism, Lutheranism, etc… as well) of a confidence/belief in the truth of the church, so concentrating on that specific event is secondary. Relatedly, those groups did not necessary experience the early 20th Century modernism tensions compared to others.

                  Finally, I am with you on the often too simplistic “apologetics” gang (McDowell, etc…). However, Habermas is more of a historian, as are the likes of Larry Hurtado, NT Wright, Bauckham, etc…. (the list goes on, and some of them are also experts in other related fields). Whereas the apologists seem to look for specific “proof” of an event, the historians seem to take the evidence that is presented, and then ask, “what is the best explanation?”

                  • I think the Gospels are about what is “true,” was true for those who passed on the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to those eho finally wrote thrm doen, collated and edited them. I think the writerd would be utterly baffled by people in our day trying to use their work to “prove” anything, vis-a-vis apologetics. They wrote what they wrote for entirely different reasons than that, and if they could, they would likely tell us yo dtop doing those things and pay attention.

                    As for us high church folks, well… i think it’s more about a sense of continuity than anything else, and comminity, as in “the communion of saints.” It’s a big endeavor, and we are not alone in it, even though it often feels that way. Also, b/c the focus is on gathering to receive communion rather than to get preached at, there’s a decidedly different focus than there is in much American Protestantism. I have basically reverted to those views and focuses, though i haven’t attended church in years.

    • john varry says

      Stephen, Your auto correct put an e in Mister. Mister Eckhart also got Mary’s name wrong but I like the content of his thought. I like modern takes on the subject as we become more knowledgeable unlike those stuck in medieval concepts.

      • Just don’t fall into the trap of chronological snobbery. The past still has a great deal to teach us.

        • What we have from Eckhart is sermons, mostly describing the spiritual state of being that he says realizes Christian faith. But the sermons offer no practical system for achieving that state; in sermon after sermon, he only points to it as the proper goal of our spiritual quests, without one hint about how to attain it. As a result, the sermons have an abstract intellectual quality that doesn’t remove them far from the kind of theological reasoning that is said in one comment above not to translate very well from Sunday morning preaching to Monday morning living. I don’t think Eckhart actually teaches much of anything in the sermons, so there’s not much to learn.


        Eckhart von Hochheim OP (c.?1260 – c.?1328),[1] commonly known as Meister Eckhart[a] or Eckehart, was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia (now central Germany) in the Holy Roman Empire.[b]

        Eckhart came into prominence during the Avignon Papacy, at a time of increased tensions between monastic orders, diocesan clergy, the Franciscan Order, and Eckhart’s Dominican Order of Preachers. In later life, he was accused of heresy and brought up before the local Franciscan-led Inquisition, and tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII.[c] He seems to have died before his verdict was received.[citation needed][d]

        He was well known for his work with pious lay groups such as the Friends of God and was succeeded by his more circumspect disciples John Tauler and Henry Suso.[citation needed] Since the 19th century, he has received renewed attention. He has acquired a status as a great mystic within contemporary popular spirituality, as well as considerable interest from scholars situating him within the medieval scholastic and philosophical tradition.[2]

        • Eckhart is interesting, but he doesn’t say much about how to effect this birthing of Christ in oneself. He only exhorts that this should happen.

        • john barry says

          Stephen, I will confess, my tongue was in my cheek as I commented on Mister Eckhart but I have no comment where my head was but it is physically impossible to be where many people tell me it is.
          I followed the great mystic of my time, Carnac the Magnificent , who could give correct answers before questions were asked. Example , Answer by Carnac—Because it was not the Holy French Catholic Church , Question–Why did the Pope return to Rome from France?
          your comments were with merit and good input. I appreciate them.

    • Yes, but I can’t make Christ be born of me. It either happens, or it doesn’t, either/or. And it is God behind that birthing, not me or my agency.

  6. While I agree with those who say that faith is faith from its inception, and that the scriptural witness is one of a faith document from beginning to end rather than history or journalism, my faith nevertheless has a boundary which is impacted by history and reporting. For instance, if heretofore unknown, authentic documents should be discovered that historically established that Jesus was a real S.O.B., or that all the Apostles were definitely lying when they gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus, my faith would probably be at its end. So it is important to the survival of Christian faith that scripture affirms in an historically credible way that Jesus was no S.O.B., and that it does not provide any historically substantial reason to believe that in its central witness to the life and resurrection of Jesus it is intentionally lying.. Historiography plays a part in this determination; otherwise every crackpot cult that came along would be on an equal footing with Christianity before the bar of history: based on faith, however unreasonable or historically false.

    • “While I agree with those who say that faith is faith from its inception, and that the scriptural witness is one of a faith document from beginning to end rather than history or journalism, my faith nevertheless has a boundary which is impacted by history and reporting.”


    • Mike the Geologist says

      Well said, Robert, well said.

      • Mike – you might be surprised to know that I agree with Robert on this He put it very well. 🙂

    • Yep. Agreed, Robert.

      The gospel accounts seem like trustworthy documents to me. If they didn’t, my Christianity wouldn’t last long. To be honest, I’m glad that Ecclesiastes was one of the first books of the Bible I read upon becoming a Christian. The fact that its non-sugar-coated angst and cynical “real-ness” had not been removed caused me to conclude that the whole of the scriptures were reliable and trustworthy, regardless of minor issues sprinkled throughout them.

  7. One question that the author raised that stood out to me is what made the disciples such fearless proclaimers of Christ given that they knew the possible consequences. I think it was having a divine experience: seeing the miracles, seeing and talking with the risen Christ, seeing the nail wounds, and for Paul, the road to Damascus experience. Something drastic was needed to make them proclaim Christ in the face of martyrdom, and that was a direct Godly intervention.

    • I think the belief in miracles was actually quite widespread in the ancient world, regardless of the religious beliefs of any given individual. That comes from bith historical and literary sources. It was not the same climate that we live in. (And yes, lots of people today, regardless of religion, believe in miracles and the suprrnatural, but that’s not the point i am trying to make.)