|If this never happened, what did happen on Dec. 25-26, 1776?|
There were many pieces of evidence that all fit together to make a convincing case for the Resurrection [of Jesus]; I’ll mention just a couple here. One of them is the behavior of the disciples before and after the Resurrection. The Gospel accounts do not portray their behavior after the Crucifixion in a particularly flattering light. Even though Jesus had predicted his own resurrection, the disciples gave up and went away, assuming that Jesus was a failed messiah. If the disciples had made up the Resurrection story afterwards, why would they have included details that made them look disloyal and cowardly? My academic studies in literature allowed me to recognize that the Gospels were written as history, not myth or parable, and that there hadn’t been enough time for a legend to form. It began to seem like the best explanation for all these events being recounted this way, was that they really happened.The last point is actually much stronger than people give credit. Skeptics and some self-described atheists (including some I have talked with) dismiss the historical fact of Jesus, claiming Jesus was invented by the Church or was, perhaps, a real man but one who was nothing like the Jesus described in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
Then, after the Resurrection, there’s a complete turn-around in their behavior, and they become bold proclaimers of the Risen Lord. There were plenty of words that people in ancient times could have used to describe visions or sightings of ghosts, and indeed, such language would have gotten them in much less trouble! But they spoke of a Jesus who was alive, bodily resurrected, and in short order were willing to die for that claim.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection, though, was the Church itself. If I supposed that the Church had invented the Resurrection to explain its own worship of Jesus, I had to ask, how did that worship arise in the first place? If the Church was not the result of a miracle, it was itself a miracle.
The problem is, as Prof. Ordway points out, that none of those alternative theories of Jesus explain the rapid rise of the apostolic missions and the sudden appearance, at a definite time of history and place, of the Church, which has from its inception declared it was founded solely on the life death and resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth.
So if not those things, which an atheist must deny, then on what was the Church really founded? The Church undeniably began in the middle third of the first century C.E. It did not exist before then. How then to account for its founding apart from Jesus and the apostolic proclamation?
An analogy I have often used is this: The US Marine Corps was founded at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, on Nov. 10, 1775. On that day, so the story goes, the first USMC recruiter enlisted the first USMC recruits (in a bar, of course, they being Marines after all).
Now to treat the founding of the Marine Corps as do skeptics treat Christianity, a skeptic would say something like this: "The USMC was not founded on Nov. 10, 1775, in Tun Tavern, but much later, perhaps as late as 1840. It probably was still in Philadelphia, though."
But on what basis could he make such a claim? Like the founding of the Church, there is no alternative story of the founding of the USMC that can be imagined to account for all the facts of the Corps' history. There is exactly zero evidence to support the contention that the USMC was founded other than what the histories say, and there is no evidence, either, to support the idea that the Church was founded either (A) at a time or place other than when claimed, or (B) for any reason other than what is claimed, namely, the resurrection of Jesus.
Or another way, if a skeptic were to claim that Washington never actually crossed the Delaware that night to attack the Hessians at Trenton, NJ, then he would have to also provide an historically-grounded explanation of why and how the Hessians were defeated, killed, captured and plundered that day. Absent such, we will have to continue to adhere that Washington did indeed cross the Delaware as claimed.
My experience with such skeptics (who often call themselves "rationalists") is that as soon as you challenge them to produce actual historical evidence that the Church was not founded on the resurrection and its immediately-following apostolic proclamation, but on something else, and would they explain what that something else was and what is its documented, historical grounding, they change the subject and start talking about who will win the Super Bowl come February.
Dr. Ordway again:
It’s important to say that there was no single, knock-out piece of evidence that convinced me; I was convinced by the cumulative claim, the way it all fit together. Historical events can’t be proved like a math problem or tested like a scientific hypothesis, and there’s always a way to form an alternate explanation. But just because an alternative exists doesn’t mean it’s is equally reasonable or likely. Speaking within my own field of literature, there are people who claim that William Shakespeare didn’t really write his plays. There are even a few legitimately fuzzy areas: for instance, a few of his plays were co-authored, and it seems likely to me that at least one passage in Macbeth (Hecate’s speech) was a later interpolation. Nonetheless, the evidence taken as whole points to Shakespearean authorship!This is another key point. Frequently (well, almost always), the skeptics or atheists I have talked with have invariably claimed that science rejects the resurrection and indeed, God himself. But they do not seem to grasp that the founding of the Church was an historical event, not a scientific experiment, and the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event, too, not a scientific experiment. Science can't validate or invalidate historical events: you can neither prove nor disprove, scientifically, that Gen. George Washington led his army across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, to attack Hessian forces at Trenton, NJ.
Human reason and intellect is much more than mere scientific knowledge. The question is not, I think, is there ironclad, "scientific" proof of God or the Resurrection, but is this: based on the weight of evidence, is Christian belief reasonable? For 2,000 years, reasonable has garnered the votes.
And that is most reasonable, too, as Blaise Pascal explained.
Update: "Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable"