Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why I Believe - The Testimony

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.
(1 John 1:1-2)

I was recently posed with the question of how I know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Now, for a pretty short question, I must admit that there are so many things that need to be said regarding this topic. More than I could fit within a two hour timeframe (which is the amount of time I took to write this little article), so I shall try as best as I can to answer this question that was given me. Lord willing, I shall try to "give an answer for the hope that is in me" (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). I know that my mind is limited, so may this be a good starting point for further study on this topic.

Now, I want to say that there are two aspects to my answer to this question. There is the objective aspect, and then there is the subjective aspect. I shall deal with the objective aspect first:

Look again at the passage which I quoted at the beginning of this passage. The apostle John talks about that which he has heard and seen. Many of the world's religions (especially Eastern religions) focus on the esoteric and otherworldly, with no objective grounds by which we can determine whether they are true or false. Christianity is very different from that. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word by which all things were created, came down to earth, lived as a flesh-and-blood human being amongst us, died, rose again three days later and ascended into Heaven. The Bible that we have today was written down primarily to provide us with a witness to what happened during those thirty-odd years that our Lord walked upon this earth (true, it speaks of many other things as well, but ultimately Christ is the centre of divine revelation). I believe that the Bible is God's Word because God has used the written Word to bear witness to the living Word. As the author of Hebrews put it, "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world" (Hebrews 1:2).

Whether the Bible is to be recognized as the Word of God depends on whether it truly gives us a reliable and sufficient witness to Jesus' life and work. After all, if this is God's Word, then we should expect it to provide us with a truthful account of the primary object of revelation. Did Jesus really die on the cross and return to life three days later? If not, then the Bible is little more than an interesting museum artifact that we can spit upon and poke fun at. But if He indeed rose from the grave, then He is vindicated in all that He has claimed for Himself as the "Son of Man" who is "seated at the right hand of Power" (Mark 14:62). Paul said as much when he wrote,

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

The idea, of course, is that this is not the case, for as he goes on to explain, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). Earlier in the same chapter of the same epistle, he speaks of the resurrected Christ appearing to many witnesses, including himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). What this indicates is that the Resurrection is not just some abstract concept that mortal men devised. Most of the men who wrote these scriptures actually saw the risen Christ. Some of them (such as James and Paul) were skeptical about the Christian claims and yet came to faith in spite of their predisposition to disbelieve in the Gospel. This would make no sense if they did not truly encounter the risen Christ. It would be absurd: These men had everything to lose and nothing to gain unless they truly experienced what they claimed to have experienced. They were willing to suffer persecution and die for the sake of this testimony. If these men were just "following cleverly devised tales," as Peter put it in 2 Peter 1:16, then we have no way of making heads or tails out of how they acted. Simon Greenleaf, a prominent American lawyer writing in the nineteenth century, points out how weighty the testimony of the apostles really is. Writing as a lawyer who examines the truthfulness of their accounts based on the rules of legal evidence, he writes,

The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in Him, could men hope for salvation. This doctrine they asserted with one voice, everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling errors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of His disciples. The interests and passions of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them.

Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments, and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency.

It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certainly as they knew any other fact. If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error. To have persisted in so cross a falsehood, after it was known to them, was not only to encounter, for life, all the evils which man could inflict, from without, but to endure also the pangs of inward and conscious guilt; with no hope of future peace, no testimony of a good conscience, no expectation of honor or esteem among men, no hope of happiness in this life, or in the world to come.

Such conduct in the apostles would moreover have been utterly irreconcilable with the fact that they possessed the ordinary constitution of our common nature. Yet their lives do show them to have been men like all others of our race; swayed by the same motives, animated by the same hopes, affected by the same joys, subdued by the same sorrows, agitated by the same fears, and subject to the same passions, temptations, and infirmities, as ourselves. And their writings show them to have been men of vigorous understandings. If then their testimony was not true, there was no possible motive for its fabrication.[1]

We can produce endless theories to explain away the events that occurred (and many skeptics have attempted to do just that over the past two centuries), but the fact is that none of these explanations hold water. Only the Christian worldview can account for the fact that the apostles were transformed from doubters and cowards into brave spirit-filled evangelists who would go out to distant lands and proclaim what they knew to be true, even to the point of death. To again quote Greenleaf:

All that Christianity asks of men... is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.[2]

When all is said and done, we may find that what is written in the Bible is vindicated as being true. B.F. Westcott, the great biblical scholar who started the great tradition of modern New Testament textual criticism, put it succinctly:

Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than he resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.[3]

In summary, I believe the Bible to be God's Word based on the truthfulness of its testimony. The men whom He used to pen it down had no reason whatsoever to invent their stories, and the many alternative explanations that those who disbelieve in the bible have put forward all fail to account for all the facts and explain why things happened as they did, leaving the Christian message as the only possible explanation.

And now I come to the subjective aspect of my reason:

We must understand that although the historical events recorded for us in the Bible are empirically verifiable, there are some aspects that you can't verify through analysis of facts. This is the case with the inspiration of scripture. I can tell you what the Bible tells about itself:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:20-21, NIV)

But how do you "prove" this to be true? In one sense, you can't. It's not as though you can conduct some sort of scientific experiment that can detect whether the words of the Bible have God's Spirit in them. But this does not automatically mean that we take what the Bible says on "blind faith." As I asserted in the earlier part of this writing, there are many grounds by which we can know the objective reality of what scripture says. I think the point is captured best by the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer when he wrote this analogy on how faith works:

One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm, the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide: "Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?" The guide would say that you might make it till the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said: "You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning."

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy. In the Alps, for example, I would ask him his name. If the name he gave me was the name of a family from that part of the mountains, it would count a great deal to me. In the Swiss Alps there are certain family names that indicate mountain families of that area. For example, in the area of the Alps where I live, Avanthey would be such a name. In my desperate situation, even though time would be running out, I would ask him what to me would be the sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the first instance. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word symbol. The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because "he is not silent," and I am invited to ask the sufficeient questions in regard to details but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man. I am invited to ask the sufficient questions and then believe him and bow before him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because he made man, and bow before him morally as needing his provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.[4]

One final point that I must make: I am a Reformed Christian. Being Reformed, I do not believe that people come to have faith in Christ as Lord and in the Bible as the Word of God because of superior intellectual arguments, clever philosophical syllogisms or historical proofs (although God can and certainly does move through these things). Because of the depravity that exists within every human heart, the only thing that can truly convince the unbeliever to believe is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, since "no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3), and "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).

So, to the unbeliever who reads this, whether you are an Atheist, a Muslim, a Jew or whatnot, I pray that the Holy Spirit may move your heart to consider these things carefully, and press upon you the truthfulness of God's Word.

End Notes
  1. Greenleaf, Simon. The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by The Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1965. pp. 28-30.
  2. Ibid, p. 46.
  3. Westcott, B.F. The Gospel of the Resurrection. London: Macmillan, 1868. pp. 4-6.
  4. Schaeffer, Francis August. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972. pp. 99-100.


  1. It seems like every week or two I hear some story about a man being released from prison because DNA evidence that wasn't available at the time he was convicted now proves that he did not commit the crime. Often, the man had been convicted based on eyewitness testimony. Nevertheless, we know that the eyewitnesses are more likely to make a mistake than the science.

    If science can be trusted over direct eyewitness testimony given under oath and subject to cross examination, why shouldn't I trust science over ancient stories that were recorded after decades of transmission through oral tradition?

  2. I'm not asking you to trust "science" over "ancient stories" since in the first place, this isn't even a scientific matter. Science has nothing to say about the truth or falsity of the events that happened two thousand years ago. It's not as if you can conduct DNA tests on the apostles or anything. This is a matter of historical inquiry, and we have to look at the facts that have come down to us and see whose worldview can truly make sense of them.

    Also, your comment assumes a rather simplistic account of how eyewitness testimony works. There are certain things you need to keep in mind:

    1. This is a culture of memorization. People back then didn't just garble up a message like modern day people do in what is known as the "telephone game." Transmission of stories was highly-controlled; the whole community made sure that those who were passing on the message to others (whether orally or in writing) made sure that the message was passed along accurately.

    2. At this point in time, there were still many hostile witnesses who could very easily have contradicted the testimony of the apostles and the early church. Had the early church falsified their testimony, these hostile witnesses could easily have contradicted their testimony or even provided evidence to refute them. For example, if Jesus stayed dead rather than resurrected, then why is it that they couldn't produce His body and instead had to resort to the excuse that the disciples stole the body?

    3. We must not use 21st century standards to evaluate 1st century methods of transmission. "Decades" may seem like a long time to the western mind, but this is actually a blink of an eye compared to the amount of time it takes for other stories to make the shift from oral tradition to writing (often, it takes four or more centuries). The culture of memorization I mentioned in (1) would serve to preserve this testimony so that we would have a very accurate portrayal of the events.

    I've often quoted biblical scholar K.A. Kitchen on this matter, and it's worth quoting his words again:

    "Among works of classical (Greek and Latin) literature, the writings of the New Testament–4 gospels, 21 letters, the history of Acts and visions of Revelation–have a manuscript attestation second to none, and superior to most. No one blinks an eyelid at depending for the Latin text of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars (Composed within 58-56 BC) upon manuscripts all of which are 900 years later than Caesar’s time, only nine or ten of the manuscripts being good textual copies. No-one doubts that we still read the real text of the works of Herodotus or Thucydides (450 BC), even though the oldest available full manuscripts (only eight or so) date from 1,300 years later!

    For the New Testament, how different and how vastly superior is the manuscript evidence. Some 5,000 Greek MSS (whole or fragmentary) are known, not a mere eight or ten. The most notable MSS are the Codexes Vaticanus and Sinaiticus of c. 350 AD–only 250 years after the end of the New Testament period (100 AD), not 900 or 1,300 years! Older still are the Chester Beatty and Bodmer biblical papyri, including six new Testament MSS of the second and third centuries AD, only 150 years after the New Testament period.

    Further back still, there is a Rylands fragment from a manuscript of John’s Gospel (18:31-33, 37f.) datable by its script to about 130 AD–little more than a generation after the New Testament period itself. As this fragment came from Egypt, it is evident that John’s gospel had been composed, recopied and begun to circulate well beyond Palestine before 130 AD. Hence, on this evidence alone, it must have been composed (at latest) by 90/100 AD, and more probably earlier."

    Kenneth Anderson Kitchen. The Bible and Its World. InterVarsity Press, 1977. p. 131.

  3. Facts don't come down to us. Evidence comes down to us. We have to try to determine what the facts are based on the evidence. In this case, the evidence is certain stories that relate events which contradict the laws of nature. If I hear someone tell a story like that today, I assign a low probability to the likelihood that the story accurately reflects the facts. I think it much more likely that the storyteller made a mistake.

    It may be that the ancients were capable of some prodigious feats of memorization, but the ancient world is so full of myths and legends that it seems obvious that many stories were not transmitted this way. Regardless of the transmission mechanism, I don’t see how I can consider those stories more reliable than the first hand accounts I hear today that I don’t accept.

  4. Vinny, if there is a God, then it should come as a surprise to nobody that the One who created the laws of nature is also able to temporarily suspend them when necessary to bring about a greater purpose.

    The problem is that people rule out the supernatural a-priori based on the presumption of methodological naturalism. It has nothing to do with the validity of science, contrary to what most popular "skeptics" like to claim. This is a philosophical issue; most of those who dismiss the supernatural dismiss because they have what is called the "Hume Hangover." As Josh McDowell explains:

    "The Hume hangover is rooted in the argument of the eighteenth-century Scottish philospher David Hume that belief can be justified by probability upon the uniformity or consistency of nature. Nature always behaves in a certain way, Hume says, therefore it is porbable that it always will behave that way. Based on this probability he concludes that exceptions to nature's laws are so infinitely improbable as to be effectively impossible. The unchangeable laws of nature outweigh any evidence that could ever be offered for a miracle. In other words, anything that is unique to normal human experience--such as a miracle--should be, according to the Hume hangover, rejected outright.

    For example, which is more probable: that the witnesses of Christ's resurrection were mistaken, or that Jesus was raised from the dead? According to Hume's rigidly naturalistic approach, the answer is obvious, even without considering the evidence because he believes the laws of probability tell us that miracles simply cannot happen."[1]

    Of course, this is highly presumptuous, as it assumes in advance that we live in a closed universe where nothing from outside can intervene. Dr. Norman Geisler critiques this view, saying,

    "Hume speaks of "uniform" experience against miracles, but this seems to beg the question or else be special pleading. It begs the question if Hume presumes to know the whole field of experience to be uniform in advance of looking at the evidence for uniformity. For how can one know that all possible experience will confirm naturalism, unless one has access to all possible experiences, including those in the future? If, on the other hand, Hume simply means by uniform experience the select experience of some persons, then this is special pleading. For there are others who claim to have experienced miracles. Why should their testmiony be inferior to that of others who report uniformity?"[2]

    Don't dismiss the Gospel accounts on the grounds that you perceive them to be "myths and legends." There is a lot of historical grounding for those accounts that no other religious document can claim (evidenced by the fact that so many actual places and historical figures are mentioned in the bible).

  5. Also, to compare Christianity to the religions that were growing up around that time is highly fallacious, as many Christian beliefs are without precedent. If Christianity is false and Naturalism is true, then you would be hard pressed to explain such tidbits as these:

    "It is often claimed that the apostles or other disappointed followers of Jesus made up the New Testament resurrection accounts.

    Yet this claim of a made-up resurrection for Jesus has two historical problems. The first is that had such a story been concocted on the basis of past Jewish or Greco-Roman precedent, there would have been no category of resurrection of a single person to turn to for the story. In other words, the story we have does not match the ideas of what such a story would have looked like. There was no category of individual resurrection as a belief widespread enough to generate the new story. Something has to explain why the story was not that Jesus' soul alone ascended or that Jesus will judge when He and everyone else are raised at the end. Those were the two key contemporary categories. Something generated this new doctrine of an individual rising from the dead. Paul's claim according to this older tradition was that the event of resurrection itself generated this new beleif.

    A second problem for a made-up resurrection account is that the allegedly made-up story relies on the presence of women witnesses at its start. In this culture females could not be witnesses. If one were making up this story, why would one create it with women as witnesses? The key role of women in the account suggests the women are there because the women were there at the start, not that this resurrection was made up."[3]

    If I may make a suggestion: Please pick up the book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. It is one of the most scholarly treatments of the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts that I know of. I am sure that you will find it very informative.

    End Notes:
    1. McDowell, Josh and Sean McDowell. Evidence for the Resurrection. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009. p. 127.
    2. Geisler, Norman. "Miracles and the Modern World." In Defense of Miracles (edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977. pp. 62-63.
    3. Bock, Darrell L., Ph.D. The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006. pp. 149-150.

  6. I have read Bauckham. Have you read Hume? The reason I ask is because I don’t think that either McDowell or Geisler accurately capture his arguments. It is not in anyway based on a priori presumptions. It is based on the application of reason to evidence.

    If I might resort to another courtroom analogy, consider fingerprints on a murder weapon. The reason that fingerprints on a knife constitute evidence of who used the knife to commit a murder is because we know what causes fingerprints to appear on knives. We understand the natural processes by which the patterns formed by the skin on the human finger come to create an identical pattern on a knife handle. We know that that when we find that a particular fingerprint on a knife that it points to one specific individual who handled that knife.

    It is only because we think that these natural processes can be relied upon to occur in all times and places that we can call fingerprints "evidence" at all. If we didn't know how these patterns got on knife handles, we wouldn't consider them to be evidence. If we thought that these patterns just appeared randomly on objects, we would not consider them evidence. Most importantly for the question of miracles, or if we thought these patterns appeared on knife handles by virtue of the arbitrary choices of a divine being, we could not consider fingerprints evidence of anything.

    Methodological naturalism is not a presumption. It is a tool or method for making sense of the world around us. One of the limitations of the method is that it is based on the uniformity of nature. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of miracles, but it has no way to identify them. The methodology of drawing inferences from evidence only works in situations where nature is uniform. In order to detect supernatural events, we would need some other methodology.

    My personal experience includes a number of people who see the supernatural intervention of God in everyday ordinary events. My personal experience also includes a number of people who readily accept and pass along stories of supernatural events without thinking critically about them. My personal experience includes no experience of verifiable supernatural events. My knowledge of the world and its history suggests that there are vast quantities of dubious miracle claims and few if any for which a natural explanation is not eminently plausible. I can only assess the probability of the miracles of the Bible based on that knowledge and experience.

  7. I don’t make any claim that disappointed followers invented the resurrection accounts nor does any scholar that I respect. I think that Bock is setting up a straw man there. I believe that Paul and others had some experiences that they interpreted as appearances of the risen Christ. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t give us any details of his experience or anyone else’s. The only detailed accounts of resurrection appearances were written several decades after the fact by unknown authors after being filtered though an unknown number of intermediate steps.

    Bauckham has suggested a method by which eyewitness accounts about Jesus might have been preserved accurately. I don’t find his suggested method terribly plausible, nor do I see any evidence that this is actually what happened. Paul says that he preached for three years before he even met any of the other apostles. He tells the Galatians that no man taught him his message and that those who were apostles before him added nothing to it. Paul’s letters indicate that there were considerable disputes about the message within his congregations, i.e., there were people communicating the message incorrectly and there were people believing the incorrect message. That seems completely inconsistent with communities assuring accuracy in transmission.

    I think that the account of the empty tomb may have been a later invention. Paul doesn’t mention it nor does he mention the resurrection appearances to the women. If Mark did invent the story, there is a perfectly logical reason why he would have put women front and center. His readers would have wanted to know why they had never heard the story of the empty tomb before. Mark could say “We did not know about it for a long time because the silly unreliable women ran away without telling anyone.”

  8. "I don’t make any claim that disappointed followers invented the resurrection accounts nor does any scholar that I respect. I think that Bock is setting up a straw man there. I believe that Paul and others had some experiences that they interpreted as appearances of the risen Christ. Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t give us any details of his experience or anyone else’s."

    Actually, Paul does recount his experience twice: First in Acts 22, then again in Acts 26. Also, this we know for certain: Those experiences were significant enough to change skeptics or even outright enemies of Christianity into its most vocal proponents. How do we explain this? Do you want to say that they hallucinated? If not, what did happen?

    Also, it seems rather silly to argue that Paul doesn't explicitly refer to the empty tomb, since the mere fact that he mentions the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15) already presupposes it.

    Finally, I don't think anybody could seriously deny that the tomb became empty on the third day. If Jesus' tomb remained sealed, and the Christians started preaching a risen Christ, then it would have been ridiculously easy to just point to the sealed tomb and say, "there's the proof that you're wrong."

  9. That is not Paul describing what he saw in Acts. That is the author of Acts. Paul describes his experience in 1:Cor 15.

    It may well be that Paul assumed that the tomb was empty based on the vision he saw. However, that does not mean that Paul was familiar with any story about someone going to the tomb and finding it empty. Paul may have thought that Jesus was buried in an unknown location. We cannot assume that Paul knows things that he doesn't write about in his letters.

    I am sure that Paul viewed his experience as significant, but I don't see why it demands a supernatural explanation. People who are antagonistic towards Christianity convert regularly. I have read about Muslims who converted despite having previously sworn to destroy Christianity. If these people converted without a supernatural experience, I don't see any reason to think that Paul's conversion couldn't come as the result of a hallucination.

    Paul also doesn't give any indication of the length of time between the resurrection and the appearances or between the resurrection and when the apostles started preaching in Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark indicate that the apostles did not see the the risen Christ until they had gone to Galilee. It might have been some months before they returned to Jerusalem. I don't think that the burial places of crucified criminals would have been common knowledge and the body could have already decayed beyond recognition.

  10. Actually I'd have to correct you at this point: Paul knew Luke (who wrote Acts) personally (cf. Col. 4:14, 2Tim 4:11, Philemon 1:24), so if Luke was putting words into Paul's mouth, Paul would have rebuked him at that point. We have no reason to doubt that Paul really did say the words recorded in Acts 22 and 26.

    Also, the fact that Paul was so hostile to Christianity would predispose him -against- having a hallucination of Jesus. So again, the naturalistic explanation falters at this point.

    Since the apostles started preaching at Pentecost, the length of time between the Resurrection and the beginning of the Apostle's evangelistic ministry would have been approximately 50 days. Also, the climate would prevent the body from decaying at the rate that you would indicate. And finally, non-Christian sources (from the contemporaneous Josephus to the fifth century collection of Jewish writings known as the Toledoth Jeshu) confirm that the tomb was empty. If it had not been the case, then it would be way too easy for them to have simply argued that Jesus' dead body stayed in its tomb, rather than inventing the incredibly dubious assertion that the disciples stole the body.

  11. What grounds do you have for asserting that Paul would have been predisposed against having a hallucination of Jesus? I am not aware of any psychological research that would suggest that there is any way to predict what types of hallucinations particular people would not have, particularly based on letters the person wrote 2000 years ago after he had already had the hallucinations. Persecuting innocent men and women was undoubtedly a very stressful vocation. What is it that you think we know about the phenomenon of hallucinations that would make it particularly unlikely that Paul's psyche would manufacture a hallucination that would give him permission to abandon that which he surely found unpleasant?

  12. The problem with your assertion is that assumes that Paul "found unpleasant" what he was doing. On the contrary, he was very zealous in his hatred for Christianity and would go out of his way to relentlessly hunt down Christians:

    "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions."
    (Galatians 1:13-14)

    Now why on earth would he want to abandon his advancement? You realize that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose, right? Same applies for Jesus' half-brother James: There was no real reason for him to develop such a hallucination, so why did he see what he saw?

  13. I'm not assuming anything. You made the assertion that Paul had a disposition against having a hallucination of Jesus. That assumes that we can know that certain people have some sort of natural aversion to particular types of hallucinations. I don't think that there is any evidence to support that assertion. It also assumes that we have sufficient knowledge about Paul's particular psychological make-up to enable us to say what types of hallucinations he would be likely to have. I don't think you can support that either.

    I don't assume that Paul found persecuting innocent people unpleasant, however, I believe that any decent human being would even if it meant career advancement. Therefore, I don't think that it is a possibility that can be dismissed on nothing more than your assessment of his predispositions towards hallucinations.

  14. Four questions:

    1. So on what grounds can we say that a hallucination is what took place rather than Paul actually seeing what he said he saw? I'm asking this because what we are doing is providing philosophical interpretation of the evidence.

    2. How does this apply to the men who were travelling with Paul when he had his Damascus road vision?

    3. Also, how do we explain the similar vision that James the brother of Jesus received?

    4. Finally, how come the early Jewish and Pagan opponents of Christianity never came up with the "Jesus'-body-is-still-in-the-tomb" explanation and took it for granted that there was an empty tomb?

  15. 1. So on what grounds can we say that a hallucination is what took place rather than Paul actually seeing what he said he saw? I'm asking this because what we are doing is providing philosophical interpretation of the evidence.

    On the grounds of probability we can say that a hallucination is more likely than a supernatural appearance because hallucinations are reasonably well-documented phenomena whereas verifiable supernatural events are completely unprecedented if not completely unknown. As an aside, what Paul says he saw, even as it is recounted in Acts, seems quite consistent with a hallucination.

    2. How does this apply to the men who were traveling with Paul when he had his Damascus road vision?

    Since we don’t have their accounts of the events, I don’t think we can even make any reasonable guesses.

    3. Also, how do we explain the similar vision that James the brother of Jesus received?

    We have the same problem for James.

    4. Finally, how come the early Jewish and Pagan opponents of Christianity never came up with the "Jesus'-body-is-still-in-the-tomb" explanation and took it for granted that there was an empty tomb?

    I do not see why there would have been any early Pagan opponents of Christianity? Pagans believed in many gods so they would not have been bothered that some people worshiped gods other than their own. By the time that the Christian cult became a political annoyance to the Romans, it may have been long past the time any body could have been produced.

    In any case, it was not the Roman practice to logically refute religious cults that they found annoying. The Roman practice was to nail a bunch of the troublemakers to crosses as an example. The Jewish approach to heretics was to stone them, not to prove them wrong.