Often, throughout internet debates, we hear the claim that what the early Christians and disciples said must be true, because it was said during the lifetime of witnesses. That it could be checked. Verified. That what they were saying was so outrageous, it would be been easily debunked if it wasn’t true.
The implication being, of course, since it was not debunked—it must be true.
So what kind of skeptics would we be looking for? Well…they would need the right mixture of opportunity and motive. Without both, they would be unable to debunk Christianity.
Opportunity. If a potential convert, living in Ephesus, was told by a Christian Missionary regarding this Jesus who came back from the dead, would the person have sufficient ability to verify the facts? Assuming they wanted to debunk Christianity—what would they do? Where would they go? They would have to travel to Jerusalem, hunt down the correct persons, ask the right questions…a difficulty.
Motive. What of a potential convert in Jerusalem? Perhaps they had opportunity, but lacked the motivation. Think of all the wacky claims permeating the world today. Doomsday cults. Heaven’s Gate. Michigan Militia. Scientology. How much do you know about Scientology? Even if you do not believe it to be true—how much effort have you put in debunking it?
Even the major religions—how much effort have you put in debunking Mormonism, if you do not believe it to be accurate? Have you read the Qur’an, in order to debunk it?
See, the reality is this—most of us have beliefs in place already excluding other beliefs. We lack the motivation to debunk claims, because we don’t believe them to be true in the first place. We don’t debunk everything all the time, because it would be exhausting.
Yet there is a fellow uniquely qualified—the Apostle Paul.
According to Christian tradition, Paul was active in and around Christianity very close to the time of Christ. He was in Jerusalem, and had access to the High Priest. According toGary Habermas, Paul was saved within 1 ½ years of Christ’s death.
Here was a guy with opportunity.
Also according to Christian tradition, Paul was actively persecuting the Church. He was willing to go outside Judea, to hunt Christians down!
Here was a guy with motive.
We have, in simple words, our perfect skeptic. Access to early Christians and their teachings; desire to demonstrate Christianity false.
But here is where the wheels fall off the bus. There are two (2) possible scenarios—either (prior to his conversion):
1) Paul had heard the story of the Jesus’ resurrection as given in the Gospels; or
2) Paul had not.
Let’s look at the first scenario—assume Paul had heard the story of Jesus, the empty tomb, and allegedly being seen by the disciples…
The facts were not enough to convince Paul it was true.
Remember, the conversion of Paul came--not because he was argued into it, not because his careful investigation of facts, not Dr. Habermas’ “minimal facts,” nothing whatsoever to do with the physical evidence on the ground—it came due to a miraculous vision from God!
I am stunned when Christian apologist act as if these facts are so certain and obvious that I, 2000 years later, should accept it as “historical certainty” when a fellow who was much closer to the events in time, person, locale and culture--was not convinced by these facts! If Paul, within the 1 ½ years of after Christ’s death, was not persuaded then, why should I be now? If the only thing that could convince such a well-placed skeptic was a miracle, shouldn’t this raise questions as to the viability of the facts? Shouldn’t this raise question as to what was being claimed?
Giving us our second possible scenario—assume Paul had NOT heard these claims. In 1 Cor. 15:3-7, Paul gives a creed regarding the Jesus’ resurrection, which he prefaces with “I delivered to you what I received…” Many apologists indicate the phrase—“what I received”—refers back to Paul learning these things from Peter and James following his conversion. (See Galatians 1:18-19)
What a minute…if he didn’t know this was what Christians claimed; how would he know what to debunk? If Paul didn’t learn what Christians were saying until after he became a Christian, he was in no position (despite being a skeptic) to refute it!
Here is our perfect skeptic—Paul. He either knew the gospel message or did not, prior to becoming a Christian. If he did, then the facts alone were insufficient to convince a person of that time, there is even less reason to think they would be convincing now. If he did not, then the claim skeptics would have debunked the Christian claims is invalid—apparently they were not proclaiming their beliefs loud enough for anyone to know what they were.
I would like to see how Habermas and Licona and Craig explain these facts were insufficient to convert Paul—a person within a few years with both opportunity and motive to investigate. Why should I believe them now, even father removed in opportunity, and with less motive?