-Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV
The resurrection is the sine qua non of the Christian faith and much has been written in its defence. Today I'd like to address one I've heard from a few different sources. My suspicion is that it originated with Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ' but I haven't given the origins investigation extensive time. Getting through the Case for Christ was trial enough already.
Anyway, on to the argument. It proceeds as follows:
- Witnesses to the events of the resurrection are listed in the Gospels
- They would not have been willing to die for their faith if it were based on a lie
Simple, straightforward and superficially satisfying. I agree that witnesses to the resurrection are listed in the Gospels. As to the second, it is hard for us to judge the hearts, minds and convictions of those at a remove of millennia. Perhaps their faith was this strong. Perhaps not. What matters is whether we can say it with certainty.
Is this unfair? If you judge me harsh, you leave us in the awkward position of trying to prove the resurrection by taking the intentions of the disciples on faith. Why not skip a step, and suggest we take the resurrection on faith? Assuming you agree with the requirement to test the second premise, let's see what we can say.
As a street preacher I know says, ten out of ten people die. I am confident that all witnesses to the resurrection died. Were some martyred? James is listed as being killed by Herod in Acts 12:1, though the reason for this martyrdom is not listed. Does the premise hold in this instance? Did he willingly die for his faith in the resurrection? Was he, for example, given the opportunity to recant and be spared? We don't know. And his is the best attested apostles' death. We cannot judge his resolve at this distance without further information.
But what of Paul? True, we have late traditions saying he was beheaded by Nero. But he did not meet Jesus in the flesh, and only ever claimed to have experienced him through visions, or more strictly, auditory hallucinations. Should he still be counted? If so we find ourselves trying to prove one supernatural event by assuming the truth of another. Why not save a step?