I need some information about early Christianity and its uniqueness in world religion

The “fact” is that most New Testament scholars and historians do accept

  1. the empty tomb,
  2. the post resurrection appearance claims and
  3. the changed behaviour of the disciples
    as historically indisputable.

From Habermas’ extensive survey of 2000 articles and sources:

(7) Virtually no critical scholar questions that the disciples’ convictions regarding the risen Jesus caused their radical transformation, even being willing to die for their beliefs. Their change does not evidence the resurrection appearances per se, but it is a clear indication that the disciples at least thought that they had experienced the risen Jesus.[24] Alternatives must account for this belief.

(8) In the study mentioned at the outset of this essay, I found that approximately 75% of the surveyed scholars accept one or more arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb. The remaining 25% accept one or more arguments against the early church’s knowledge of an empty tomb. If the majority is correct that Jesus’ burial tomb was later found empty, this perhaps adds some credibility to the disciples’ claim that they saw the risen Jesus. If the minority view is correct, this reason would of course not support Jesus’ appearances.[25]

The survey revealed almost two dozen reasons supporting Jesus’ empty tomb. These include the potentially embarrassing but unanimous agreement in all four Gospels that women were the earliest witnesses, Jerusalem being the least-likely place for a resurrection proclamation, the attestation by multiple sources, the early pre-Pauline creed (1 Cor. 15:3-4) implying an empty tomb (cf. the possible early tradition in Acts 13:29-31, 36-37), along with the later report that the Jewish leaders conceded it (Matt. 28:11-15).[26]

The minority position that accepted one or more reasons against the empty tomb cited a total of about a dozen opposing considerations. These tend to center on the lateness of the Gospel reports, Paul’s lack of discussion (and perhaps knowledge) of the empty tomb, and that the report served apologetic purposes in Christian preaching.

The empty tomb is not as widely held as are the other historical reasons for the disciples’ experiences, which are seldom disputed. Still, most critical scholars agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. James D.G. Dunn concludes: “I have to say quite forcefully: the probability is that the tomb was empty. As a matter of historical reconstruction, the weight of evidence points firmly to the conclusion. . . .” Potential alternative explanations are not feasible.[27] Historian Michael Grant surprisingly states that “the historian . . . cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb" because normally applied historical criteria indicate that, "the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.”[28]

There is much more in Habermas’ article and his other works that show your opinions about what historians accept is not in keeping with what they actually do.

Habermas has done a great deal of work using what he calls a “minimal facts” approach relying only on the “facts” that are accepted by the vast majority of scholars as the grounding premises for his claims that derive from those accepted facts.

The Church doesn’t allow for a non-belief in the divinity of Jesus, a denial of the resurrection, nor does it allow disbelief in miracles.

To argue that the Church has tolerance for interpretation concerning some narratives does not entail that the discussion is wide open to disbelief of every tradition and teaching.

75% of the scholars he surveyed… I would like to know who. He references “a forthcoming article”. I googled it and found it. It contains no reference to this 75% or which scholars he was talking about. The Jesus seminar alone was 300 scholars, I doubt if any of them believe that the empty tomb is an historical fact. But again, without access to who he surveyed and why he chose those particular scholars, it is impossible to judge the quality of the claim. The other arguments he makes are not very strong, and few of them are referenced. Who are the “many scholars” who thinks there are three independent sources for the story of the empty tomb? Why doesn’t Paul mention it, but rather suggest that Jesus became a “life giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45)?

No, this is wrong. There need not be any bias towards miracles happening. Miracle claims happen all the time. Today many people experience seemingly miraculous healings etc. But this is an event we are very far removed from. It happened 2000 years ago. All the evidence we have of the event are copies of written accounts that were written decades after the event. The first complete copies of the gospels are written 150-200 years after the originals, which we do not have. The originals were written 40-70 years after the event by anonymous upper class Greek speaking Christians, fluent in Greek, who could not have been eyewitnesses to the events, since the witnesses were illiterate Aramaic speaking lower class citizens (only 1% of Galilee could read, even fewer could write). The evidence is not strong enough, without faith. An encounter with Jesus will change that. But a historian cannot use his personal encounter with God as evidence. Also, you talk about a bias towards God’s intervention. But which God would that be? Miracle claims exist in all religions. Muslims believe that Mohammad ascended into heaven on a winged horse. Do you believe this? Should historians uncritically accept this just because there is a written tradition that says many eyewitnesses saw this? Or does the allowance for miracle claims only apply to our God?

I disagree. They use the tools of historians and scholars and judge NT claims the way they judge any other historical claim. Do you believe the miraculous stories attributed to the Buddha? Or Krishna? Or should special treatment be given to Christianity only? All religions make miraculous claims. There is no special bias against Christianity.

I did not deny the divinity of Jesus. Nor did I deny the resurrection. The question is whether it can be proved historically that Jesus claimed to be God. Even if it cannot be proved historically, he may still have been God. And even if he didn’t explicitly say so, the Holy Spirit may have revealed this to the disciples shortly after he resurrected. Also, saying that one cannot prove the resurrection as an historical event is not denying the resurrection. But the kind of certainty you seem to want is illusory.

There IS a special bias against Christianity if IT makes special claims that other religions do not, and it does. All other religions are human depictions about gods or human claims about them. Judaism and Christianity are documented and historical witnesses to God intervening in history. God’s words and God’s deeds are consistently depicted and attributed to him in historical events that no other religion even comes close. No other religion makes these kinds of claims about interventions by their gods in history - in mythology perhaps, but not history.

This is not true. I mentioned one concrete example of Muhammad flying to heaven on a winged horse. There are numerous miracles associated with the Buddha. He was born by a virgin. He spoke right after he was born out of the side of his mother. Lotus flowers grew underneath his feat as he miraculously took his first steps right after he was born. People have reported miracles in connection with hindu sages in our own century, people such as Ramana Mahirshi or Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Sai Baba was reported to perform miracles in India. There are numerous stories of levitating Buddhist saints.

Nope. There is much greater and more reliable credible historical attestation for the life and resurrection of Jesus than for any event or person from that time. We don’t deny that Plato or Aristotle existed or the conquests of Alexander the Great occurred, but believe them on much flimsier evidence than exists for the events in Jesus’ life. It’s not that I want “certainty,” I believe the evidence is credible and I find alternative accounts insufficient.

Where do I leave an impression that I demand certainty? That seems to be the position of the “modern scholars” that you keep bringing into the issue. I don’t think that kind of certainty is to be had with any historical event precisely because the past is inaccessible to us. I am content with assessing reasonable explanations and I don’t find any better explanation for the Gospel events than these were God events. Any other explanation seems quite contrived to avoid that recourse.

None of these are explicit claims about God doing them.

Muhammad flew, not God. Buddha did miracles, not God. Hindu sages performed miracles, not God.

Never is there a claim that God did these things, merely that they occurred because of some special feature of some human agent. Neither did any one of these humans claim to be God. That would have been unthinkable for them. Only crazy humans, like deluded Roman Emperors, claim to actually be God.

Well, except for one, otherwise extremely sane, human. That’s the special case. The only one.

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

"Holy is He Who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque (in Makka) to the farther Mosque (in Jerusalem) - whose surroundings We have blessed - that We might show him some of Our signs 1. Indeed He alone is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Quran 17:1)

The Quran says God did it.

“Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘I am that I am’. ‘I am’ is God, not thinking ‘I am God’. Realize ‘I am’ and do not think ‘I am’. ‘Know I am God’, it is said, and not ‘Think I am God’”.

“I am prior to everything (perceived through this body) and the knower of it.” - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.

“I am God! I am God! I am not different from God!
I am the eternal undifferentiated Absolute!
Grief and anxiety cannot effect me.
I am always content. Fear cannot enter me.
I am Satchidananda! I am pure Existence, Knowledge and Bliss.
I am Omnipotent! I am all-powerful; nothing is impossible for me!
I am Omniscient! I am all-knowing;
there is nothing which is not known to me.
I am Omnipresent! I am present everywhere. I pervade this universe!
I am Krishna! I am Christ! I am Buddha!
I am Sai! I am Sai! I am Sai!
I am God! I am God! I am God!” - Sai Baba

The Buddha was an agnostic, so I’ll grant you that one :slight_smile:

There is a great deal of evidence from many sources, for Alexander the great. But I am not aware that anyone claims he rose from the dead. There is great doubt when it comes to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, since they are extremely late copies, and rely on secondary testimony. It is simply a false idea that scholars do not debate the veracity of these things. It is commonly repeated in apologetics, but it isn’t true. As for the life of Jesus, I have already stated that the vast, vast majority of historians think he was a real historical person. The evidence is good that he was baptized by John, preached an apocalyptic message, was reported to have performed miracles, was put to death by crucifixion under Pilate because of his disruption of temple worship. Whether or not the resurrection happened cannot be determined by the science of history, but the Church became a reality because people came to believe this happened. And people throughout 2000 years of history have claimed to experience Jesus as a living reality in their life. Such an experience is the most important evidence to a believer.

Because of your very strong reactions against the current scholarly consensus. If you take the time to read Crossan, Borg, Ehrman etc… you will see that these people are not idiots and their arguments cannot be dismissed easily. I think Crossan is biased against the supernatural, and it is a little irritating, but he makes his biases plain in his works. Still, one can learn a lot from him, as NT Wright rightly observes.

Granted there is some evidence for these historical figures but that evidence is not of the kind and quality that exists concerning Jesus’ life. The only reason this latter evidence is often disregarded or ignored is because it points directly at supernatural claims, which the historians cannot permit because of a priori assumptions on their part. It has little to do with the quality of evidence, but rather with the unwanted conclusions to which it inevitably leads.

I am not clear how my reactions show that I am the one who demands certainty. I am claiming that these scholars set the bar for certainty unreasonably high because of their own bias against the supernatural. I am quite willing to accept reasonable grounds for, at least, considering the supernatural claims. That is not a “need” for certainty.

Granted Ehrman and others are quite creative in how they go about trying to explain indisputable historical evidence without reference to the supernatural, but that is precisely the reason why they get traction as scholars. They do make far-fetched explanations somewhat plausible by leaving no stone unturned. That, however, only makes their “natural” explanations plausible for those who do not accept the existence of God, but still far less plausible than the explanation reported to be true by the witnesses themselves.

NT Wright is one who frequently demonstrates clearly where the “natural” historians have, themselves, erred by discounting God from the get go.

This is not an historical account, it is a theological one.

The historical details are scant and do not suffice to “pin it down” in any historical “sense.”

Contrast that to Gospel accounts which name names and motives, stipulate times and provide a plethora of details regarding place and setting. There are numerous narratives in the OT that do likewise. The narratives do carry through in a consistent and connected way from the beginning to the end of the God “story,” His-story.

No other narrative in any religion does that.

It is really fun when you say that natural explanations are far fetched, while man rising from the dead is “plausible” :slight_smile: You don’t have to be very creative to find natural explanations that are more plausible than the faith based one. Even if people can rise from the dead, it is extremely rare, so the evidence that something like this has happened must be strong. Even if one grants that God intervenes, one needs evidence for this as well. If we consider the resurrection of Jesus, here are two natural explanations that are more plausible to someone who does not have faith:

  • Jesus was not buried in a rich mans tomb, but dumped in a pit. As a rule, the Romans did not allow victims of crucifixion to be given a proper burial. This is one of the reasons why there was such great shame connected with this form of punishment. There are a few rare exceptions to this rule, but the vast majority of those who were crucified were dumped in a pit. The disciples experience of Jesus as resurrected was spiritual, which is why Paul says in 1Cor 15:45 that Jesus became “a life giving spirit” when he resurrected. As time went on, the resurrection accounts became more and more physical. Mark doesn’t mention someone actually seeing Jesus after the resurrection. In Matthew and Luke they do and the physicality increases, as a response to heretics who didn’t think Jesus was really human and in John’s gospel, the apostle is allowed to touch him and see the holes in is hands. Do I personally think this is the correct account? Nope. Is it more plausible without faith than God intervening and raising Jesus from the dead? Yep.
  • Another option is that the tomb was empty. From several sources we see that when Jews were in a hurry to bury criminals before the sabbath, they would temporarily place them in a tomb before the sabbath, and then move the body to the common grave of the criminals after the sabbath. So, Joseph of Arimathea, who may simply have been a pious jew who did his duty and not a follower of Jesus, could have put Jesus (and perhaps the other two criminals) in his family tomb to make it in time before the sabbath.Then on Saturday night, he moved the body to the common grave of criminals, so that when the women arrived at the grave, it was indeed empty. Do I personally think this is what happened? No. But it is more plausible without faith, than that God intervened and raised Jesus from the dead.

The Lord of the Rings has plenty of names and motives, it stipulates times and provides a plethora for details regarding place and setting. That doesn’t make it factual. You find such accounts in other religions as well. The Hindu-epic Mahabharata comes to mind:


You may quote scholars who say “this and that story in the Mahabharata didn’t actually happen”. But Hindu conservatives will be as angry as you are when such claims are made. The “nasty liberals” are not willing to consider the truth of the epic… etc…

Also, many narratives in the OT are not confirmed by archeology, and some blatantly contradict archeological findings. The Exodus in particular comes to mind. There is no evidence for it, and a heck of a lot of archeological evidence against it.

In other words, someone lied, intended to deceive or just kept silent, all of which go to the credibility or gullibility of the witness testimony. While the Apostles were going about spreading the good news, Joseph of Arimathea simply witnessed all of the events in embarrassing silence. He could have stopped them from carrying out what he knew was a great blunder, but didn’t. That surely says something about Joseph.

Second, neither of these “accounts” adequately explain the numbers of witnesses to and accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. It is almost as if you are choosing to ignore the fact that these people lived at the same time and actually did speak to each other and shared what they saw WITH each other. Your accounts seem contrived in order to bypass the obvious. That is precisely the problem with most modern historian renditions, and the reason I don’t find them credible. They are far-fetched because they assume the supernatural is even more far-fetched.

I don’t find your natural explanations to be on the whole any more plausible than the supernatural account because while they do seem to jibe with some aspects of the events as isolated episodes, they make, on the whole, greater demands on credulity, with regard to the entire story and the rise of Christianity. It is the whole picture that I am concerned about.

Did the writers of the texts for Buddha, Krishna suffer martyrdom for attesting to those “miracles” ?

I don’t understand why you said PeterPlato was angry. I didn’t notice that.

Matthew was tax collector and would have been reasonably educated. And John who had special access into the court when Jesus was on trial and therefore seems to be born of the priestly class also could have been well educated on that account. So, I would expect that they would want to record what was a life changing event for them in the Gospels that go by their name.

I know you will not like the following links, but I provide them for those who might benefit from them.

Dates of when Books of Bible written


How the Gospels were composed

Vatican II, DV 18. “It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.
The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. …
19. Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1).”
Vatican II

Book of Revelation


Dating the Books of the New Testament -or- The Emperor Has No Clothes



I am not going to use a lot of time arguing for explanations that I don’t believe. These are not “my” inventions, BTW. However, you constantly assume that all the details in these texts are correct. Post resurrection appearances for instance. These are quite contradictory accounts, they are late (apart from 1Cor 15, where Paul classifies himself among those who have seen Jesus without differentiating his experience from the others, and his was a spiritual vision), and even in the late accounts the apostles do not recognize Jesus before their “spiritual eyes” are opened. I have already mentioned that the great commission is unlikely to be historical (which doesn’t mean it is a lie, BTW, it merely means that the Church speaks in Jesus’ name) because if it had happened, the discussion of whether or not gentiles should be allowed to be baptized, and the council of Jerusalem, would not have happened. And the council is independently attested by Paul.

The question of Joseph of Arimathea’s silence is interesting. Perhaps he wasn’t silent, but since it is pretty hot in Jerusalem, proving that a certain corpse is Jesus would be terribly difficult after a very short period. Another possibility is that the disciples initially didn’t view the resurrection as a physical thing (see 1Cor 15:45, where Paul says Jesus became a “life giving spirit”), and so there was nothing for him to refute. The later the gospel, the more physical the resurrection becomes.

There is no good evidence that the apostles were martyred for their beliefs. All the accounts are very late traditions (written a couple of hundred years after the event). The only early account I know of is James the brother of Jesus from Josephus, but he doesn’t actually say that James was killed for being a Christian.

But yes, there are many martyrs in all religions. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, whatever, have all died for their faith.

You’re right. I should refrain from trying to read someone’s mind based on text, even though I do suspect that there is some cognitive dissonance involved here.

The gospels are anonymous and and are very unlikely to have been written by the names attached to them. As I mentioned in an earlier post, very few Galileans could read (perhaps 1%) and even fewer could write. So all the disciples were in all likelihood illiterate. Furthermore, their spoken language was Aramaic, not Greek, which is the written language of the gospels. There are some sources in the gospels that seem to have been translated from Aramaic because they sound strange in Greek, but make sense when translated back into Aramaic, so some traditions may stem from eyewitnesses. But the gospels were written by upper class Greek speaking Christians who were highly educated, not by Galilean fishermen or tax collectors. And they were written decades (40-70 years) after the fact.

It is easy to soothe cognitive dissonance by only searching for sources that tell us what we like to hear. So we can be tempted to only read those scholars/apologists who set very early dates for the gospel compositions. It is no coincidence that they are universally people who have made a strong investment in their beliefs. I have read a mountain of such material as you are linking to (and although you quote Church documents, you would be in for a cold shower if you studied the Bible in Rome). I have read and watched Craig, Habermas, Blomberg, FF Bruce etc… But I have also read the other side. Books that people like to read refutations of without actually having read the book that is supposedly refuted. So many conservative Catholics will not step out of the comfort zone to actually read Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, the Jesus Seminar etc… but they will happily read apologetics articles that “refute” them. The really sad thing is that these “refutations” for the most part are weak, deal only with peripheral points, and are not intended for people who actually read critical scholarship. They are made so you won’t read it and to make you feel secure. But if your wish is to truly evangelize people, then are going to have to interact with this stuff, because people outside the faith are reading it.

This deserves special mention. Have you tried actually interacting with members of a cult before? For instance, try showing a Mormon the hard physical evidence that the Book of Abraham is a fraudulent document. Or the evidence that he began translating bogus Kinderhook plates into English. You will not succeed.

Even at the time of Joseph Smith, one of the book of Mormon witnesses, David Whitmer, showed conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith had altered his own so-called revelations from God, making some of them say the exact opposite of what they originally said, and adding “historical” events that nobody had heard of. This tampering with scripture happened within a decade of the founding of the Mormon Church. Most Mormons today know nothing of this evidence, and if you try to show them, they will not look at it, or make up insane rationalizations so they can keep their cherished beliefs. Had that religion been founded a little earlier, so that “An Address to All Believers in Christ” by David Whitmer no longer existed and the original copies of the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon were lost, neither would we. I feel the need to emphasize that we do not have the original gospels. We don’t have copies of the original gospels. We don’t have copies of copies of copies of copies of the original gospels. And documents hostile to Christianity from the first century would not have been preserved by Christians… To the extent that there were any, in a mostly illiterate society. A society without TV, newspapers or the internet.

You are assuming that the early followers of Christianity were highly rational skeptical people who understood logic and who would weigh evidence carefully to see what was true, and if it was discovered that their cherished beliefs were false, they would reject them. People, for the most part are NOT like that, whether they call themselves Christian, Muslim, Bahai or atheist. And you assume that they had easy access to information. How could a Christian in Rome verify the claims of a religion that began in Palestine? Google it?

If I am certain of one thing in life, it is that people will believe whatever they want, often despite the evidence against it. So arguments such as “they would not have believed this, he could not have made that up” are useless. And it would be ten times worse in a society without basic education and information exchange.

This, directly, highlights the problem with much of what you characterize as “critical” scholarship. A “lack” of evidence in support of a particular traditional viewpoint is highlighted and that absence becomes the ground for presenting some alternative explanation which inevitably also runs aground by creating subsequent issues with events or text which were never in dispute until the “lack” of evidence issue began the sequence of critique in the first place.

The traditional viewpoint is quite often the most compelling and plausible explanation, but since a “lack of evidence” is presumed to be indefeasible, less reasonable accounts become the validated ones even though they require a great deal more Jerryrigging to make them jibe with the sometimes scant available evidence.

These were, indeed, historical events, but actual events that got us where we are. To look back at those events in order to try to reframe them based on skepticism and expecting that the surviving evidence can come close to reconstructing history is somewhat of a delusional enterprise to begin with. One which, by the way, is often grounded in a denial of God to begin with.

My guess is that you are “younger” and have stumbled upon the writings of Crossan, Ehrman, Borg, Von Rad and others and find them compelling precisely because these writers are somewhat “creative” in their approach to the evidential issues. However, they frequently have their own set of unsubstantiated assumptions that are just as contentious as the traditional ones they dismiss.

I read several of Crossan’s books and a number of books by Von Rad and others back in the late 1970s and early 80s and was never convinced by much of what I encountered. I’ve read some of Ehrman’s work and listened to a number of his talks and debates. He does have a measure of integrity, but, on the other hand, he accepts by a kind of plausible presumption numerous ideas that are integral to his position, but these working presumptions of his could just as plausibly be argued as pointing in other directions.

The modern iteration of form criticism is gradually being eroded by fuller and more robust scholarship. I wouldn’t be too hasty to jump on the bandwagon.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.