Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Review Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What happened in the Black Box?

Author Kris D. Komarnitsky kindly provided a review copy of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What happened in the Black Box? for my opinion.

The tl;dr review: A good work, more studied than Strobel’s Case for Christ but not as scholarly-driven as Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Komarnitsky relies upon cognitive dissonance—resolving the conflict of Jesus’ follower’s belief Jesus was the Messiah and the reality of his death—to present the plausible natural resolution for the physical resurrection story’s origin. A good resource responding to many apologists who demand we read this book or that author. If one is looking for a book to utilize in replying, “O.K., I will read and review a book you offer, if you will read and review one I offer,” I would highly recommend this one when discussing the resurrection.

My fellow bloggers, VinnyJH57 and Matthew Ferguson have also reviewed the book, and I invite you to read their thoughts; I will limit repeating their statements.

Now a bit more in-depth. The subtitle highlights the focus here—what happened between Jesus’ death and the gospel stories to bring people to believe Jesus physically rose from the dead? Jesus died in 30-33 CE. The Gospels were written, starting in 70 CE or so. Within those 40 years—the proverbial “black box”—the only glimpses we have regarding Christian beliefs are a few words quoted by Paul, giving the barest highlights on Jesus’ resurrection appearances--the tradition cited in 1 Cor. 15. Understandably Komarnitsky focuses on this tradition.

For me, the greatest value is Komarnitsky’s study regarding 1 Cor. 15:4, “…and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” But what Scripture? And why three days? (Komarnitsky points out other Jewish writings around the 1st Century generally utilized seven as a prophetic figure—not three.) I struggled with this “three days according to the scripture” concept before. The book makes a strong argument this “three-day” concept was NOT based upon an explicit three day reference to Tanakh scripture, but rather was interwoven with the Jewish concept the body starts to decay after three days, and since Jesus’ body could not reach the point of decay, he must have been raised on or before the third day. Komarnitsky points out Jewish passages in the 2nd and 5th Century confirming the Jewish belief regarding this three-day period.

Therefore…the argument is made…the tradition is relying upon Psalm 16:10, “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the pit.” As the early Christians believed God saved Jesus from the dead, did not let Jesus’ body decay, and the common belief this must be done before the third day, the tradition relies upon Psalm 16:10 to say, “…and he was raised on the third day [before his body could decay, of course] according to Psalmist scripture…”

Now, one may raise an eyebrow at this argument. How do we necessarily know this was tradition based upon later documents? Doesn’t this seem a bit of stretch? To which I would reply—how long must you keep your tax records?

I would bet most of you would immediately respond, “7 years,” right? If I recall my tax law class correctly, there are actually two (2) statute of limitations regarding tax law. For innocuous, unintentional mistakes, the IRS can back three (3) years. For fraud, they can go back six years. There is no “seven year statute of limitations” on taxes! (They can only collect for 10 years.) Yet we think—many “know!”—there must be a seven year reason somewhere. Probably came from accountants adding a one-year buffer for safety.

If anyone 2000 years from now read our actual records, they may never know the commonly held “seven year” tradition. (I have heard it applied to civil cases and criminal cases as well, which also do not necessarily have a seven-year limitation. They vary by action and state.) Yet we hear it over and over. Equally and understandably, there are many traditions we simply do not know about in the First Century, yet may catch glimpses through literature of later periods.

But the nail in the coffin (in my opinion) is how Peter’s initial sermon in Acts 2:24-31 makes direct reference to this belief and explicit reference to Psalm 16:10:

”But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.

Within Peter’s speech, we can see incorporation of Psalm 16:10, and if common belief was decay started after the third day, how Jesus must have been raised by the third day to be effective. Komarnitsky addresses competing claims “according the scripture” would refer to Jonah or Hosea 6:2.

One critique I would have is how Komarnitsky places a Summary of the Hypothesis at Chapter 6…139 pages into the book. I would have placed it first—let the reader know immediately what the theory provides. Indeed, when recommending this book, I will always suggest the reader start with Chapter 6 (it is exactly 2 pages) to understand what is being proposed, and then go back to page one.

As an example, when writing briefs I often place a box, with a few lines telling the Judge(s) exactly what is in dispute and what I am arguing. It informs the Judge what she is looking for or what is important. I once had a judge tell me, “While I read your extensive brief, it turns out everything you argued was already in the boxed section.” In the same way—give us the hypothesis first, then flesh out the details!

Komarnitsky argues Jesus’ followers, firmly convinced he was the Messiah, found it impossible to believe their hopes were dashed by his death. They began to rationalize Jesus was raised to heaven and would shortly return to complete the Messianic mission. They utilized cognitive dissonance to explain away the apparent inconsistency. Peter then had a vision he interpreted as a visitation of Jesus, and others did as well. (Komarnitsky accurately points out the “group-think” of heightened spiritual cohesiveness we see today in Pentecostal gatherings.) Komarnitsky concludes, “As the years and decades passed, the above experiences, beliefs and traditions gave birth to legends like Jesus’ burial in a rock-hewn tomb, that tomb being discovered empty three days later, his corporeal post-mortem appearances to individuals and groups described in the Gospels, and his appearance to over five hundred people mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.” Pg. 140.

To demonstrate cognitive dissonance in action, Komarnitsky goes through numerous examples whereby groups believed the end of the world would occur on a specific date, and when the end failed to materialize, would rationalize away the reason, often finding a new date. We are all familiar with the recent Harold Camping claim the world would end May 21, 2011. When it failed to do so, Camping rationalized it away, obtaining a new date of October, 2011.

Directly on-point Komarnitsky details the Lubavitch Hassidic Jews who maintained the belief Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the long-awaited Messiah, even after Rebbe Schneerson suffered two strokes, was rendered comatose and then died. Many Lubatvichers believe he will be resurrected and return as the Messiah.

Komarnitsky updated this Second Edition to include a chapter responding to Dr. William Craig and Dr. Licona. In Dr. Licona’s work, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” he provides historical analysis both in approach to historical method and historical claims surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. Dr. Licona’s final chapter compares varying natural explanations for the Resurrection to his supernatural explanation.

Likewise, Komarnitsky follows Dr. Licona’s format, comparing his own hypothesis of cognitive dissonance to Dr. Licona’s hypothesis of supernatural intervention, comparing each element: Explanatory Power, Explanatory Scope, Disconfirmation, Ad hocness and Plausibility. Komarnitsky concludes his hypothesis is at least equal (if not better) than Licona’s on the first four factors, leaving the sole factor—plausibility—the determinate. He expresses experience-based doubt God intervenes in a physical way in the world, stating, “Based on this specific background, knowledge, bias and personal experience, Jesus’ resurrection seems far less plausible to me than fallible human beings in a highly charged religious environment falling into a swirl of rare rationalizations, individual hallucinations, scriptural interpretation, designations of authority, religious conversions and legendary growth.” (emphasis in original) Pg. 174

Unfortunately, I fear he has done a disservice to his hypothesis here, by including the words “to me.” Under this approach, I anticipate a Christian barking up the tree it is dependent on Kris Komarnitsky’s view of God, or his predispositions against miracles, or his own personal experience which is countered by the Christian’s experience of miracles. (Komarnitsky even anticipates such a claim by referencing Licona’s position miracles occur.)

Rather than let the debate boil down to “what is true for me, based upon my biases is not true for you, based on your biases” I would have appreciated a more extensive attempt to neutralize and remove the bias as much as possible. What would a neutral third party think is more plausible? Not Licona, or Komarnitsky, or me or the local apologist.
For example, as recent as the May/June 2014 Touchstone Magazine, Tom Gilson touches upon Komarnitsky’s theory, but responds with a cursory, “It lacks, if I may say so, the ring of plausibility.” Great. A Christian apologist says it isn’t plausible; an agnostic scholar says it is. How do we weigh the actual claim?

That complaint aside (albeit a fairly large one), I found the material helpful. I learned something (the use of Psalm 16:10), it parallels my own opinion as to what happened—cognitive dissonance—and it offers a reasonable natural explanation for the origin of Christian belief in the Resurrection hypothesis. Rather than spin their wheels addressing whether Jesus actually died (by using the Bible), or claims the Disciples stole the body (by using the Bible), I would hope Christian apologists


  1. Fascinating. So you're saying that the three day problem may be the best argument for the historicity of the empty tomb because someone who was inventing the story from whole cloth would have avoided the problem by having Jesus rise on Monday rather than Sunday. Of course the Christian apologist has a very hard time using that argument because to do so is to admit that Jesus was a little bit off on fulfilling a prophecy.

    "That's some catch, that Catch-22," [Yossarian] observed.

    "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”

  2. Vinny JH57,

    You are correct. In court cases there are details we must deal with—situations where we cannot ignore it, or claim it was completely made up. For a well-known example, the fact the glove did not fit HAD to be addressed by the prosecutors. They could not ignore it.

    In the same way, I find elements within the Jesus story so glaringly addressed—even rationalized—it appears they must be true. One, of course, is the crucifixion; you and I have discussed it at length.

    But another has been 1 Cor. 15:4’s use of “the third day.” Why not simply “raised”? Something had to have happened within three days to make such specific reference. Additionally, it creates a slight concern as “two day” would be more accurate under Roman time, and a bit of a nudge under Jewish time.

    As if…like crucifixion…the early Christians had a three-day period they must utilize. Komarnitsky’s explanation of a three-day custom readily resolves this problem. If Jesus was to be resurrected prior to decay setting in, everyone would understand it was on or before the third day. The “according to the scriptures” was referring to the raising…not “the third day.” (This also resolves the difficulties as to what scripture the tradition was referring.)

    Again, the Lukan author directly tying Psalm 16:10 in the first Peterine sermon gives significant support to this theory, in my opinion.

  3. Perhaps there was more than one tradition. CD led the disciples to believe Jesus would be vindicated. Then came visions confirming that Jesus had been resurrected. After that, the disciples came up with different answers for when it took place. Some went with on the third day, while others went with before three days had passed.

    1. According to Bart Ehrman, there is zero evidence that any Jew prior to the advent of Christianity believed in a suffering/dead/resurrected Messiah. Ehrman says that Carrier's evidence on this issue stating otherwise if full of holes: in other words---nonsense.

      I would be honored if any of you would be willing to challenge I and Ehrman on this issue on my blog:

  4. Ehrman is making this argument to prove that Jesus really did exist; that Jesus of Nazareth is not a myth. However, I believe that Ehrman's argument can also be used to support the Christian contention that Jesus of Nazareth arose from the dead.

    If no Jew was expecting an executed/dead messiah, then what Jew would expect an executed/dead...then...alive-again, ascended-into- heaven messiah?

    The tale of Jesus has just gone from completely unbelievable to any Jew, to completely impossible to ANY human being!

    Why would ANY Jew believe the story of Jesus the Messiah...unless he/she saw, or knew and trusted, somebody who saw,...a walking, talking corpse!

    1. I run into Jews for Jesus passing out tracts at the train station from time to time. Do you figure that everyone of them saw a walking talking corpse, too? If not, then your hypothesis fails.

  5. That is a good point, but none of the Jews for Jesus that you have met at the train station ever saw Jesus publically crucified and dead.

    It is one thing to convert someone who may be wanting to convert or have some other reason to not be a devout Jew in today's multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, but to convince a Jew that someone they saw executed as a common now alive and the Anointed One of Israel???

    Possible? Yes. Probably? Not at all.

    I would encourage every skeptic of the Resurrection to read Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist. Although Ehrman's goal will be to convince you of Jesus' historicity, I think he does a darn good job of proving the Resurrection, as well.

  6. From a Jewish author:

    "I'm friendly with the guys at Jews for Judaism. They do a great job. I don't mean this in an insulting way to Christians, but when your body gets an infection it produces antibodies, and the antibodies are good to have around. Jews for Judaism wouldn't exist if it were not for Jews for Jesus. Jews for Jesus doesn't have a lot of success attracting actual Jews. A lot of the people who attend Messianic synagogue are not Jewish by birth."


    Saul of Tarsus was a devout, educated Jew. If Jews for Jesus have trouble converting actual Jews in today's liberal, secular society, as this Jewish author asserts, I don't think he, Peter, or James would have converted due to their very non-Jewish tactics.

    1. Want I'm trying to say is that to convert a devout, "actual" Jew, you would need to have much more than just well printed "Jewish" Gospel tracts. You would have to have some very serious evidence. Do you really believe that a wild night's dream or a vision in a cloud formation is going to be enough to convince an devout, orthodox Jew that a dead convict is his Messiah?? Come on.

    2. Gary,

      The only records we really have of Paul are the ones he wrote himself. He declares himself to be a pharisee among pharisees, a Jew among Jews. There is no one to confirm the veracity of his claims about himself. He writes that he saw a bright light and heard a voice that he claims was Jesus.

      Now, Paul had supposedly just come fresh off of having Stephen stoned and was on his way to convince the Romans to allow him to arrest any Christian Jews. He was clearly in a mad state. Do you not think it equally plausible that he had simply gone mad? Can you imagine having such vitriol that you would have a person stoned to death, and stand there and watch it? Don't you think the hysteria of all of that and the grief and shock of what he'd just seen might have left him open to a psychotic break?

    3. Anything is possible, Ruth. He also could have felt such guilt for killing fellow Jews that he converted as a form of "penance"...and then made all the rest up.

    4. "Anything is possible, Ruth."

      That is my point. There isn't much "evidence" to believe any particular hypothesis. I'm not inclined to believe that he made these things up. I'm inclined to believe he had visions and believed they were real. But who knows, really?

  7. Ruth,

    To clarify, Paul never writes about any vision, bright light, blindness, or voice. Paul indicates he received the gospel (“good news”) by direct revelation from Jesus (Gal. 1:12), not from any human. (One could argue Paul was emphasizing, “not from any mere human—I trump them all by getting it straight from the horses’ mouth: Jesus himself.) [See Also 1 Cor. 11:23 where Paul states he received instruction regarding the Eucharist directly from Jesus.]

    Paul talks about himself going to heaven (2 Co2. 12:2) either physically or in a vision. This was a common theme in the First Century. (As I have mentioned before, see the Assumption of Moses, Assumption of Enoch, Revelation of John.)

    Paul indicates he saw Jesus (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8) without providing any details whatsoever, such as when, where or how. Additionally, it must be noted Paul’s emphasis on seeing Jesus post-Resurrection appears to be an appeal to demonstrate a qualification as an apostle more than an apologetic claim as to Jesus’ post-resurrection situation.

    Finally, Paul emphasizes Jesus’ resurrection is NOT an evangelistic tool, rather Jesus’ crucifixion is. 1 Cor. 1:22-24.

    All adding up to Paul’s claim of “seeing Jesus” not providing much (albeit some) credible evidence regarding a physical resurrection of Jesus. Certainly the more likely position is Paul’s belief in a spiritual resurrection.

    1. Right, DagoodS. I should have clarified that I was taking about Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus, which in error I did say Paul wrote. I should have looked up the reference material instead of going just from memory.

  8. Dagood and an SBC pastor on my blog both believe that there is evidence that some first century Jews did believe in a suffering/dead messiah. It that is true, and Ehrman is wrong, we are back to square one. I left this comment on my blog:

    Well, if these sources are credible, then we are back to "square one": Jesus fit the bill of the minority view of the Messiah. It was not an inconceivable idea that a first century Jew would believe this concept. My atheist friends are left with no more evidence for the Resurrection than when we started this discussion.

    How sad.

    I think there are several of them who WANT to believe, they are just looking for good evidence to justify believing. Now we are back to asking them to believe Saul of Tarsus' testimony. That isn't enough for them.

  9. Gary,

    I think it is misleading to say Jesus was executed as a "common" criminal. He was not a camel thief or a pickpocket. He was executed for being a political threat to a corrupt and detested power structure. Crucifixion was indeed a shameful way to die, but the activities that led to his execution were acceptable to many Jews of the day.

    Paul, Peter, and James did not "convert" to anything. They continued to see themselves as Jews, but Jews whose understanding of the messiah had changed. Moreover, they didn't abandon their previous understanding; they added to it. They continued to believe that Jesus would come as a conquering hero some day.

    All devout Jews of the day wanted to believe that God had not abandoned His people and that He still controlled events. They wanted to believe that there was a reason for the things that were happening to the Jews. Moreover, they were already familiar with the idea of God's people suffering for their sins. They may not have been familiar with the idea of God's anointed one suffering for their sins, but the idea built on concepts they already understood.

    I think that it easy to see how some devout Jews could have embraced the idea that God's anointed one needed to suffer a shameful death before being vindicated. It showed them that their own suffering had a purpose and it promised them that they too would be vindicated in the end. That is a very powerful message.

    I read Did Jesus Exist? and I was disappointed even though I had admired everything else I've read by Ehrman. I don’t think much of arguments like “No Jew could have invented a crucified messiah” because it translates to “Every single Jew could not have come up with the idea of a crucified messiah” and we simply have no way to make that determination. The odds of any particular Jew coming up with the idea might be tiny, but it is still possible that the odds of some Jew coming up with it are fairly high. It’s like the lottery; with enough people playing, the odds that someone will win get big.

    I would suggest that you read Komarnitsky's book, but I know that you aren't, interested in reading things that might disconfirm your beliefs. The chapter on cognitive dissonnance reduction gives some excellent examples of the lengths to which people will go in order to cling to cherished beliefs. When faced with the apparent failure of a movement to which they have committed their lives, people are capable of fantastic mental gymnastics.

    1. I understand your point, Vinny. If someone wants to believe something bad enough he/she will ignore all evidence to maintain that belief. I am willing to give up my belief system, but no one has yet given me enough evidence to do so.

      If anyone can present me with convincing evidence of testimony held by the Romans or even the Sanhedrin that Jesus body was stolen or discarded into a common grave, I would seriously consider deconverting.

    2. Funny side note: As I was posting the comment above I had to fill out the scribbled writing to confirm I am not a robot. The word that came up for me to "confirm" was:

      Melchezidek (sp?)

      It's a sign!!!


    3. I made this comment to a Southern Baptist pastor on my blog who believes that the Gospels are enough evidence for atheists to believe:

      Just to be clear, Dagood, Bruce, Ruth and others of my atheist friends DO believe in the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. And Dagood seems to believe that Isaiah fifty-three IS speaking about a suffering Messiah.

      What they are not convinced of is the supernatural event of a Resurrection. I thought I had something with Ehrman's statement that there is "not one shred of evidence that any first century Jew, prior to Christianity, would have believed in a suffering messiah". If Ehrman is wrong, then my argument that the conversion of first century Jews to Christianity is good evidence for the Resurrection, goes down the toilet.

      Once again we are left with the testimony of Saul of Tarsus and the accounts in the Gospels. That evidence is going to have to be enough. It is for me, but not for them.

      There are some of my atheist friends who I think are happy to be ex-believers: they feel liberated, especially the ex-fundamentalists. But in others, especially Dagood, and maybe Ruth, I detect "resignation": Someone gave them evidence that destroyed the foundation of their belief system---the inerrant Bible---and they are diligently searching every rock and cranny for any evidence to re-justify their faith....but time after time they come up empty.

      I thought I had found "it" for them. But if they don't believe Ehrman on this, it was all false hope. I wish Ehrman himself would prove to them he is right on this one.

    4. I just don't see how it matters whether Ehrman is right about it or not. Let's suppose it was Peter who first came up with the notion of a suffering messiah, why would I infer from that that Jesus had actually risen from the dead rather than thinking that Peter came up with the idea to rationalize the fact that the man he believed to be the messiah had just been crucified?

    5. Maybe the eleven disciples would have "made up" the Resurrection, or even had true cognitive dissonance, so that they could continue to be the leaders of this little band, but hundreds and maybe a few thousand other Jews bought into this very unlikely messiah story, just based on the wild tales of a few wild-eyed, uneducated Galilean fishermen???

      Possible? yes. Probable? no.

      It is enough extra evidence for me to corroborate/strengthen Paul's testimony. But I don't think it is the overwhelming evidence that you, Dagood, Ruth, and others would ever consider good enough.

    6. There are 14 million Mormons in the world today based on the wild tales of a single wild-eyed uneducated bumpkin in an age of wide spread literacy. Probable? No. More probable than the Book of Mormon being true? Yes.

  10. Well, what I think we are left with is one very educated, very devout, Jewish rabbi's testimony: Did Paul really "see" Jesus, as he said, or did he have a vision or hallucination? I choose the former, you guys choose the later.

    Neither side can prove the other wrong. We are back to where we started...sadly.

    1. No. We are not left with that. You choose only to look at that.because that is how you justify your beliefs. For DagoodS and Ruth and I, Paul's question "Have I not seen the Lord?" is only one piece in a much larger puzzle.

      However, as I have pointed out "see" also means "to perceive or detect as if by sight." People see visions and they see hallucinations. If the early church didn't think that Paul meant that he saw a walking, talking corpse, there is no reason for me to interpret him that way. That could have been his experience, but I don't to the slightest injustice to his words by considering the possibility that he was describing an incorporeal encounter.

    2. What I meant to say is that you can't prove your position, and I cannot prove mine. We would need a resurrected Paul to know what he meant when he said "Have I not seen...".

    3. You are correct. Nothing can be proven. Nevertheless, you choose to believe in a God who will subject me to eternal torment for guessing wrong.

    4. I would do ANYTHING not to believe that, including giving up my place in heaven.

    5. Anything except choose not to believe in things that can't be proved.

    6. I fear hell too much to do so.

    7. Gary,
      The concept of "hell" is something that evolved over time. If you look through the Old Testament, you won't even find a portrayal of it. In the Old Testament, all rewards and punishments were earthly. God didn't promise the ancients eternal life, or dwelling with Him in heaven....he promised to bless their descendants and their crops and herds. He didn't punish with images of eternal torment, but with earthly death, sickness, slavery, or cursed descendants.

      This is probably tied to the fact that ancient Israelites didn't believe in such a thing as a "soul". In their view the body was the soul...they weren't separate things. If you died, you died and decayed. God's promises to you lived on in your children and their safety and successes and their memory of you.

      Thinking of people as "souls" within bodies is a later addition, most likely influenced by the many cultures influencing Judaism during the time period in which Christianity was born.

      Even in the majority of the New Testament hell, in the way in which people currently think of it, is really not discussed all that much. There is talk of perishing and death....but really only Revelation lays out the image of eternal conscious torment. Instead, the focus was on physical resurrection because being physically resurrected meant you were alive and had received eternal life. Anything before that was nothingness...thus all the references to believers "falling asleep".

      You fear a concept that is not really "biblical". Now, my referencing the Bible is not meant to confirm that it is an accurate portrayal of reality, but to point out that according to your own holy Scriptures, the current concept of hell is not something that existed. It is a concept influenced by the idea that people are really immortal "souls", not biological beings.

      The theology you fear and think is so airtight s something that came afterwards as Greek influenced Christians/Jews tried to postulate how all of this worked. It is theology working backwards to fill in obvious holes that early Christians noticed. It is not theology that was formed and detailed by Jesus, Paul, or the gospels.

    8. Fear is indeed a powerful motivator, but why not at least be honest enough with yourself to drop the pretense that your belief system is somehow based on evidence?

      Perhaps you can understand why DagoodS and Ruth and Bruce are never going to return to the fold despite any lingering longing they might have for the comfort provided by "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so." They have seen that no matter how much you talk about a loving God, the root of your gospel is fear. They can never unsee the naked emperor.

      Moreover, for the ex-believer, the Mormon hell or the Muslim hell or the Zoroastrian hell are just as scary as the Christian hell. As a result, returning to their Christian faith could never provide them with the comfort that it provides you.

      As for me, I was raised Catholic, but the nuns got hold of me just as Vatican II came on the scene so I didn't get nearly as big a dose of hell as my older siblings did. Hell never played that big a part in my thinking even when I embraced fundamentalism for a couple years as a teenager.

    9. Liza,

      Did you know that Jews do believe in hell? However, in their beliefs, the maximum sentence is one year.

      I don't understand why you feel Jesus never believed or taught about hell. What about the Rich man and Lazarus. Jesus tells this story in Luke:

      There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

      22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

      25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

      27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

      29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

      30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

      31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

    10. Doesn't sound like one can escape this place. it sounds as if people thirst and are in torment. Sounds like they are there because they were not good in this life.

      As long as I still believe in Jesus of Nazareth as God, and I believe this passage in Luke to be authentic, then I must believe in hell.

    11. re: "Sounds like they are there because they were not good in this life."

      doesn't that conflict with "salvation by faith (correct belief) alone"?

    12. In Lutheran theology, faith and works are inseparable. If you have true faith, you will produce good works. If you don't produce good works, it shows you don't have true faith, and if you don't have faith, it is because you have hardened your heart against God.

      In our theology, all have the opportunity to be saved.

  11. My comment to an atheist friend:

    You may very well be right, my friend, and to tell you the truth, I hope that you are right.

    I would happily give up heaven and seeing my loved ones again if it meant that no one else has to go to hell. Hell is an absolutely horrific concept. In my opinion, no one deserves to be burned alive day, after day, after day, without there ever being an end.

    I hope you are right: I hope that when we all die, the only thing that will happen to us is that our bodies will decay and provide nutrients for new life from the earth. And that's it. However, if you atheists are wrong, and I buy into your story, I will suffer horrific torment, possibly being burned alive, in a black hole, in the center of the earth, forever and ever.

    Maybe some of you ex-Christians have been able to get that fear out of your heads. I can't.

    I'm not going to take the chance of YOU being wrong. No, I will not deconvert from Christianity.

    I will obey God. Whether I believe in Him or not is irrelevant in Lutheran theology. I have been baptized. I am a child of God. As long as I do not reject God, or willfully disobey him, I will attain eternal life. The consequences of not obeying are too horrific for me to contemplate.

    1. Clarification: In Lutheran theology it is only necessary to WANT to believe; knowing that you believe without any doubt or reservation is not required.

  12. Dagood: Is it possible that the correct answer to your question, "Would a modern jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection" be... not "yes" or "no", but "depends"?

    If the jury is composed of twelve "Dagood's" then the jury will definitely not find in favor of the Resurrection. However, if the jury is composed of twelve members who reflect the population at large of the United States, I think there would be a very good possibility that they would.


    Studies show that 80% of Americans believe that miracles are possible.

    Only if the jury is composed of persons like yourself who believe that miracles are impossible, would they definitely vote "no".

    I have posted six or seven very good articles on my blog that give evidence for the Resurrection. I welcome comments and criticism from you and your readers.

  13. Every other month or so, I read about a man being freed from prison as a result of DNA testing that wasn't available at the time of his conviction. In many cases, the conviction was obtained by eyewitness testimony, but that doesn't matter when the science says that things couldn't have happened the way the eyewitnesses said it did.

    In the case of the resurrection, the only first hand account is Paul's. That is all you've got. Now you and Bart Ehrman may find Paul credible, but the jury will have to decide for itself whether to believe his story. Even if everyone on the jury accepted the possibility of miracles, why would they find his fantastic story any more believable then the story of someone who claimed to have seen a ghost or a space alien or the Virgin Mary? What is it that makes his story credible? All you have is "have I not seen The Lord" and " he appeared to me."

    Unfortunately, you probably aren't going to be allowed to call Ehrman to testify that he considers Paul trustworthy. Even if you did, opposing counsel would ask Ehrman whether he believes that Paul really saw a walking talking corpse and Ehrman would answer " No."


    What are the terms for pardon under the New Covenant? Did Jesus give us the terms of forgiveness from sin before He died or after His death and resurrection?


    1. Luke 18:18-22 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? .....20 "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' Do not murder,' Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' ' Honor your father and your mother.'" 21 And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." 22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "you still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; come, follow Me."(NKJV)

    Would the rich ruler have been saved had he obey Jesus? Yes. Was Jesus giving the terms for pardon under the New Covenant. No, He was not.

    2. Mark 2:1-5....5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic,"Son, your sins are forgiven you."(NKJV)

    Were the sins of the paralytic forgiven? Yes. Was Jesus saying that under the New Covenant men will have their sins forgiven because of the faith of friends? No. He was not.

    3. John 8:3-11....10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the women, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."(NKJV)

    Was the woman condemned by Jesus? No, she was not. Was Jesus saying that under the New Covenant if no man condemns you that I will not condemn you? No, He was not.

    4. Luke 23 39-43 .....Then one of the criminals who was hanged blasphemed Him, saying , "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us". 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying , "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds ; but this Man has done nothing wrong."42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom." 43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."(NKJV)

    Was the thief saved? Yes. Was Jesus giving the terms for pardon under the New Covenant? No, He was not.


    Mark 16:14-16 After He appeared to the eleven...16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.(NKJV)

    Jesus gave the terms for pardon, under the New Covenant, after He was resurrected.

    Luke 24:36-47 ....."and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.(NKJV)

    Peter gave us the terms for pardon under the New Covenant at Jerusalem on 33AD. Acts 2:22-41
    Peter preached the terms for pardon under the New Covenant.

    Faith: John 3:16
    Confession: Romans 10:9
    Repentance: Acts 2:38
    Water Immersion: Acts 2:38

    Jesus never told one person that under the New Covenant they did not have to be baptized in order to be saved.

    Jesus never told one person that under the New Covenant they did not have to repent to have their sins washed away.

    Acts 2:38 And Peter replied, "Each one of you must turn from sin, return to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; for the forgiveness of your sins; then you also shall receive this gift , the Holy Spirit. (The Living Bible -Paraphrased)