Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

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If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H

What is wrong with the quality of the evidence that Jesus appeared to the apostles?

We might read the gospels and think the case for Jesus having risen from the dead is not bad.  But the fact remains that we are not in the best position to draw that conclusion.  There are clues in the New Testament itself that the evidence is not good.  It can happen that works look convincing to future generations which don't know what the generation that produced them knew.


There are four resurrection narratives in the New Testament and they have contradictions among themselves.  They have differences. Differences are regarded as not being the same as contradictions.  But that does not change the fact that what looks like mere differences is in fact contradiction.  It depends on what the writer meant in his own head.


The accounts call for harmonisation if you assume that the authors intended that or that God wrote those books and that the story is coherent.


One harmonisation needed is for how Jesus said he would rise after three days and yet he only rose on the third day.  Believers take the "after three days" loosely which is very neat.  They say the author did not mean it strictly.  Matthew says people were raised from the dead when Jesus died. The resurrected people in Matthew came out to visit people after Jesus rose. But even the New Testament only guesses WHEN Jesus rose. It gives no evidence that he really rose on Sunday morning.  It is merely assumed.  Thus you have Jesus predicting the future as a sign when there are problems with the fulfilment.


Those who harmonise the resurrection narratives firstly assume the angels appeared and Jesus appeared later. They do not try to get the information to fit and leave it at that. No - their harmonisation has a goal: to get you to think the texts vindicate a resurrection. But you can harmonise without vindicating a resurrection.  By default if you harmonise texts you have no right to insist that your scheme is the right one.  There is more than one way to skin a cat. 


For example, if Matthew's account of Jesus appearing in Galilee and then telling the apostles to proclaim the gospel has problems you can say it was a heavenly vision where Jesus appears in the sky and ascends.  The problem with Matthew is that he does not pick better stories and his post-resurrection narrative is more interested in refuting the allegation that the disciples stole Jesus' body than he is in Jesus appearing. You can say he picked that story because it was a good one for ending the gospel with.  Matthew in any case leaves us with absolutely no evidence that the apostles verified that the risen Jesus had a body of any kind.  A missing body proves nothing unless the person rises and you at least can touch him.  They were the only authorised witnesses and the essentials.  Neither does Mark the earliest gospel help with the risen body problem for his resurrection stories have been added by forgers.  It would be odd if God could raise the dead and allow the first attempt to make a record and the first source to give the outline of the story of Jesus could not look after the resurrection record.


Suppose the tomb was found empty and Jesus’ body was not seen within it though it should have been. Suppose the Bible says all that. It still does not amount to the Bible saying, “The explanation is that Jesus rose” but “Perhaps the explanation is that Jesus rose.” It is not rational to read the Bible as saying “God must have done it.” It is an attempt a rational interpretation but it is not. All interpretations are an attempt at being rational. To say the scripture is saying God raised Jesus from the dead is just the interpreter's interpretation not the Bible’s. The gospels of Mark and Matthew and Luke make the fatal mistake of not saying if they mean a supernatural or natural resurrection.  Scholars point out that the Christian doctrine of Jesus' resurrection means he was miraculously raised from the dead.  But apart from the gospel of John that doctrine is not in the gospel.  However not a single gospel gives any evidence that if the resurrection happened that it was down to God and not down to some renegade natural law or even a secret potion that restores life.  Grave and prevalent irrationality arises from all that for silliness gives rise to more silliness.  And the pestilence has always corrupted Christendom. And it is plastered in dishonest thinking and half truth.


Those who leave theology out of their examination of the evidence and say that from a historical standpoint the most you can say is that Jesus rose from the dead are wrong. The most you can say is that Jesus rose from apparent death.  That is what you do for anybody who is dead and then is reported as alive.  You do not explain how they did it.  You don't need to.


St Paul was the main founder of the early Christian Church and its real rock. He was the first Christian writer. He is the only person who wrote about his experience of apparitions of the risen Jesus. He is the person we must study if we wish to know the how and possibly why of these apparitions. Yet he let it slip that he wasn’t sure how real his visions were!
He wrote in Philippians that he didn’t know if it was best for him to die or to live. He was in a dilemma he said. Both dying and living were equally appealing to him because if he died he would go to Jesus to be with him forever and if he lived he would be able to serve his friends on earth and teach them the good news. He admitted that it is far better to die and go to Jesus. But he added, “But to remain in my body is more needful and essential for your sake” (Philippians 1:23). This doesn’t show much confidence in God. It shows even less in Jesus. Paul believed that nobody can die unless God wills it. God has to let them die. And if God needs a person to live no power on earth will be able to destroy that person. Also Paul talks as if he cannot be done without which blasphemes the providence of God. If Paul were to die then God could get somebody else to take his place. If Paul really couldn’t be done without then the other apostles were useless and so were their successors and that is what he thought. And the Church fell into apostasy and away from divine protection when he died. If he was so sure that he was so essential then it is no wonder he got martyred if that happened. And he wasn’t a real martyr for he was so sure he would be saved. One way Paul had confidence in God and in another he hadn’t. But if Paul was really sure of his visions and if his Jesus had been a miracle-worker there is no way he would have written the way he did. He speaks as a doubter and doubters doubt things here and there but not everything. If the gospel portrait of Jesus is true it would have been impossible for Paul to have been like this.
Paul spends some time in 1 Corinthians trying to make rival or heretical apostles who were having visions and experiences of the divine look pathetic. In 2 Corinthians 12:1 Paul says he will not boast. He then says he knows a man who had mystical experiences fourteen years before. He says he doesn’t know if the man was in the body or out of it. This refers to the idea of the person being separable from the body which you get in traditional Christianity. The soul is the real person and the body only some accessory that it drags around. He says the man went to the third heaven and heard things that no man is allowed to mention and of him he will boast. He then admits that he himself is this man and that God afflicted him for being proud of his experience. He says he can’t reveal what was revealed to him. He did reveal the resurrection of Jesus so it was separate from all this. Had he been so proud of the resurrection visions he had he wouldn’t have needed to go into this experience.
The fact that Paul decided not to say he was the man indicates that he never mentioned it to anybody. And he says he is boasting about it. What is there to boast about? He doesn’t tell us what happened or what was said. That is strange boasting. You boast to make others feel inferior but you can’t do that if you won’t go into details. You wouldn’t want to boast about things you can’t detail. Johnny doesn’t boast about winning the lotto if he doesn’t want people to know how much he got or work it out. He says he boasts of this man (12:5) which is odd when he doesn’t tell us who he is. By now we can see that the man has to be himself after all for there is no point in boasting about a stranger whose identity you won’t reveal. Later in the chapter Paul changed his mind and admitted to being the man (see verse 7) and said that he got a chastisement from God to keep him humble despite having so many revelations. He said God punished him for his pride about the experiences and here he was tempting God to have another go! Doesn’t sound very believable or respectful of God. Perhaps Paul didn’t care what God did to him for boasting because as long as he could rival or surpass the rival apostles. This shows an extreme bias, all he cares about is his point of view. He even goes as far as to boast about nothing! Paul then boasts in verse 11 that he is in no way inferior in miracles or otherwise to his rival apostles. He talks as if their visions and miracles are as impressive as his. Such a person cannot be trusted. He is like a person who has the same credentials as somebody else and is acting like the other persons are not as good as his. His letters should be thrown out of the New Testament. The saying he won’t boast and then doing it despite the threats of God indicate a sick mind.
That Paul didn’t boast about his visions of the risen Jesus is telling. It indicates that he wasn’t very impressed by them himself. It also indicates that his rivals reported them too and that they said they were taught their heresies by those apparitions. He couldn’t prove they were lying and had to resort to nasty tricks to fight their influence. Seeing the risen Jesus is more important than any heavenly vision. Yet he boasted about an inferior experience and kept it quiet for fourteen years as if it was the only important experience he ever had. If that experience was the most important then we have the right to doubt the veracity and reality of his visions of Jesus. He even treats the experience as something that other people should be impressed by though he won’t say much about it and there is no reason why it should make a good and lasting impression. When he expects people to be impressed by it he can’t think very much of his visions of Jesus. He didn’t consider them sacred enough to keep secret for years.
Paul was declaring the experience he had fourteen years before to be the most important thing that happened to him and his answer to all heretics and the reason his followers should keep listening to him. The resurrection appearances by implication were declared to be nothing. It is possible that Paul had a mystical experience and from it worked out that Jesus died and rose again. Perhaps at the time he thought the Old Testament predicted a dying and rising saviour and took the experience to be confirmation of this. Perhaps he saw an entity calling itself Jesus and concluded it was the risen Messiah though the vision never said so. Perhaps the whole death and resurrection story was just an inference and was not revealed by a miracle from Heaven. That means there is no evidence at all that Jesus died and rose and that Paul saw him as a resurrected being. He says elsewhere that he has seen Jesus the Lord. If the thinking in this paragraph is right then we can safely say that the early Christians may not have had visions of a man claiming to have risen from the dead at all but visions of a heavenly being they interpreted as a risen being but who gave no justification for this inference. Nothing in Paul’s writings or in the accounts of those who reported visions actually states that the being said it was a resurrected being. However the view that the vision did say it was a risen crucifixion victim is a useful framework for interpreting the resurrection appearances stories.
The Jerusalem apostles accepted Paul as a minister of the gospel and naturally that his apparitions were genuine. They accepted that deranged impostor – what does that say about their own visions of the risen Jesus? Nothing good!
Perhaps some might say that since the fourteen years before event seems to be about the time Paul fell off his horse near Damascus we could surmise that he had a near death experience and saw the being of light and read all this Christian stuff into the experience. Perhaps that was the only vision he had of Jesus. The others might just have been visions revealed in dreams or in the imagination both of which Christian mystics regards as possible vehicles for divine communication. Skeptics will say that the Damascus vision was caused by a blow to the head and was nothing more!
When the evidence is that bad for the basis of Christian faith, the resurrection appearances, and the apostles are desperate for evidence and scrap the bottoms of barrels it is undeniable that the gospels version of Jesus is entirely fiction.
Paul was no use as a witness for his extreme arrogance and bias was evident when he declared in Galatians that even if he himself changed his gospel, gospel means good news, and even if an angel from Heaven came with any different doctrine that both should be held to be accursed and unworthy of being listened to. Galatians 1:8, 9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to and different from that which we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment). As we said before, so I now say again, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel different from or contrary to that which you received from us, let him be accursed” Amplified Bible. In other words, nobody’s visions were any good unless they supported what he was saying. Christians say he was being hypothetical but people would have seen visions of angels contradicting Paul for he complained about rivals having visions so that is out. He was saying that even if God sent an angel to contradict Paul, God should be ignored. This is clear evidence of insanity and dishonesty. The fact that Paul admitted that his gospel is full of mystery, seeming contradictions, makes the whole thing worse for it puts a curse on anybody who has visions in aid of a more coherent looking gospel. He condemns rival gospels, remember these are gospels, they offer a message of hope and comfort so Paul was condemning all religious consolation and comfort that didn’t fit his vision of what a gospel should be. If a gospel failed to offer hope it would get no followers.
Paul wrote that some were going over from his gospel to a different and even an opposed gospel (Galatians 1:6) but there can’t be any other gospel (1:7) and they are distorting the gospel of Christ (1:7). So what many of them were doing was just disagreeing with parts of the gospel. He says his gospel is the gospel of Christ. This letter opposes any attempt to undermine the idea that salvation is by faith alone without good works. This is what it means primarily by the gospel of Christ. But the gospel Jesus never taught that doctrine so he is another Jesus from that of the early Church. Paul is dogmatic on this point, deny that Jesus has done it all and say he has done most of it or nearly all of it so you need to do some good works to be saved and what you have is not a gospel. Then any alteration means a gospel is not good news though it says it is, it leads to eternal damnation. This epistle proves that Protestants who believe Paul’s gospel cannot consort with the Roman Catholic Church which adds good works and sacraments to faith as a condition of salvation. Get it wrong on justification you end up unsaved and damned which is why he tolerates no dissent at all.
He said anybody who teaches anything different from his gospel is to be condemned, he did not say those who were doing the misleading which would leave room for having pity instead of wrath towards the preacher who was misled but not willingly misleading people. The Vatican II Catholicism which teaches this distinction then is heretical and is the basis for its dropping the appellation heretics for modern Protestants. Paul’s bigotry is a sign of being on unsure ground, he acted sure but he wasn’t but whatever was going to happen he was going to focus on acquiring power for himself and rank as the best apostle of Jesus. He was going to scare people into agreeing with his gospel because there was no evidence to help. There was no real Jesus who did real miracles and all he had was an apparition that claimed to be of a man who died on a cross for sins and rose again.
Paul and his preachers had been saying that even an angel altering the gospel should be accursed for a long time for he says “We” and they must have been saying the same thing themselves when he was so sure they were with him on this one. That means he knew what people would think of it, he knew how nasty and arrogant and bigoted it sounded for he would have been told often enough. Paul and his evangelists were evil men who practiced a form of religion but inwardly denied its power the thing they accused their rivals of doing. Paul said the Galatians were told it before so his Church made a point of declaring that even God himself should be ignored if he taught anything that didn’t fit the gospel. He was saying that no matter what evidence you got that the gospel was wrong you should ignore it. He says later on that this gospel is the one taught by the Jerusalem apostles as well. So they all agreed then that evidence didn’t matter, but agreeing with their interpretation did. Is this the kind of cooking pot you would see a true gospel story of Jesus’ life incubating in? Could the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John be anything other than clever lies when a Church like that wrote them? Could any of the witnesses of the risen Jesus really be relied on when evidence meant nothing to them but believing a message just because they wanted to believe it did? The early Church was a hotbed of authoritarianism by the apostles and fanaticism in the converts. The gospel Jesus however says that man was not made for the Sabbath and that leaders should really be slaves and what has the Jesus of Paul’s Church in common with this one? One of them is a fabrication if not both.
Whatever the truth is, the Church and Paul put the focus on apostolic authority, not on evidence and not on visions. In other words, they wanted people to believe in Jesus NOT because they saw him but because they said he rose and had the authority from him to say it. This is totally irrational, manipulative and dishonest. Their game was to climb the ladder and be above other people. Authority not revelation is the real focus with revelation just being a decoy and a bait to get this authority respected. To believe in their visions is simply blasphemy.
“Now to Him Who is able to strengthen you in the faith which is in accordance with my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation (the unveiling) of the mystery of the plan of redemption which was kept in silence and secret for long ages, But is now disclosed and through the prophetic Scriptures is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, [to win them] to obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:25,26). Amplified Bible.
Notice that Paul wants them to strengthen their faith by going to the Old Testament prophecies. This then was considered the best way to see the evidence not listening to accounts of apparitions of Jesus or looking for miracles he did or even pondering Jesus’ teaching. This is irreconcilable with the gospel portrait of a Jesus who wants to be known by himself. It is irreconcilable with the idea of a Jesus who lived recently and who was known as a man. It also shows that if it could be proved that the prophecies didn’t say those things then the apostles thought it right to say they were deluded in their apparitions. It is important to know as well that it was hard for the people he was writing to, for them to research the scriptures. Checking out Jesus through investigators would have been tons easier. When an experienced teacher like Paul still directs them to do what is so hard when there should be easier ways if Jesus really did what the gospels said he did it is clear that it was the only way.
Also he speaks of the mystery of redemption as a secret. Something you don’t tell is not necessarily a secret. A secret is what you work at keeping hidden. Paul means it was kept hidden. Also Jesus didn’t redeem till he was crucified and raised. So you may say the redemption wasn’t finished until he rose again. It’s not much of a redemption from sin and death that just wipes the slate clean which is why Paul wrote that Jesus rose again for us to make us holy just as he died for us to make us clean (Romans 6:8;7:4;5:10). God kept the secret until the redemption for when people were saved and had their sins taken away they had light from God. Paul speaks of this light in several places. Not only does it incline believers who are truly converted to do good but to see it and understand God and God’s scriptures for the Holy Spirit dwells in them. The secret then was not revealed during the life of Christ but at his resurrection appearances. Some converted then and got the Holy Spirit and began to see Jesus in the Old Testament and see what must have happened to him.
Paul said that the mystery of how Christ redeemed us was never known before but was revealed by divine command through the prophecies of scripture in Paul’s time. The Christians always claimed that Jesus and how he saved us by his cross and resurrection were predicted by the Old Testament writings. They say that Paul doesn’t say that Jesus and the plan were revealed only through the prophecies. But it is possible he meant that all the same. Paul said that it was his gospel that was revealed through these writings and predictions ending the silence and the secrecy of the plan. So the plan was not revealed by apparitions of Jesus or by Jesus himself for that would mean they showed what the plan was not the scriptures. Remember the plan was showed by the scriptures. What Jesus did was prove and reveal what the scriptures meant so that the plan became plainly seen from the scriptures.
The alleged resurrection apparitions may have helped people see the plan in scripture but what is important is what scripture says. This seems to be telling us that the foundation of the religion was what the religion thought it read in scripture not apparitions or a Jesus. If Jesus was known as a man Paul would not have written this way. If Jesus was known only as an apparition that needed to be checked out by scripture that would be different. But the picture we get from all this is that the existence of Jesus and his death and resurrection were worked out from scripture FIRST and then the apparitions took place not as evidence but as confirmation or a complement to scripture.
The purpose of the visions was to draw attention not to themselves but to the scriptures. They had the same role as private revelations have in Roman Catholicism. For example, if Jesus appears today he is not giving new revelation but simply helping the Church focus on revelation already given.
There is no historical evidence for Jesus. There were only attempts to fabricate such evidence when the Church became established.