Jesus is Like (But Not Like) Others

This reminds of the conversation with @DaleCutler about motors and flagellum (The Flagellum is Not a Motor?). Remember that one?

Yes, Jesus has some superficial similarities and analogies to other leaders. What are the disanalogies though? What is different about him? Do you know?


I guess not. So just tell me.


@Faizal_Ali, to suggest that Christianity has no more rational basis than Scientology seems to me to be either disingenuous or ignorant. And this really just goes back to your post that kicked off this thread:

The fact is that your dismissing any scholarship that considers the Gospels to be historically reliable as “not serious” doesn’t make it so. Scholarship doesn’t become unserious simply because you disagree with it, and there are valid reasons to believe that the Gospels are sufficiently reliable to make a case for the truth of the Resurrection. (See the scholars mentioned in this thread, e.g. by @jongarvey and myself.) And in this respect, to the best of my knowledge, Christianity is unique. The basis for the claims, or even just the nature of the claims themselves, for e.g. Scientology, Mormonism, Islam, or Buddhism, simply do not compare.


Let’s start with one of the most glaring ones. The religious movement Jesus spawned began after he died. This is unique among all other Messiah movements from 1 century before and after he died.

There are about 10 comparator cases to understand the cultural context. In every case that a Messiah figured died, this was taken as de facto evidence that the person was not the Messiah. In some cases, the religious group disbanded. In other cases, they moved on to consider a family member as the Messiah. In the case of Jesus’s death, they did not decide to call Jesus’s brother the Messiah. Instead, the disbanded.

It is only months later that the early Church forms. Christianity forms without Jesus on earth in bodily form (if we are to deny the Resurrection). This appears to be unique among world religions.

Islam did not form after its Prophet lived, but while he lived. Mormonism, Scientology, Buddhism, Sai Baba, etc. all formed while their key leaders lived, with their dedicated effort for decades. In contrast, Christianity forms after Jesus died, after the Jesus movement (which was merely a disorganized following of a dead rabbi) disbanded. This may be unique among world religions. It raises many questions.

  1. Everyone else understood that a dead Messiah was not the true Messiah. This is why they disbanded. What was different for the early church, such that all 11 disciples returned to reconstitute the movement?Why did they come back together after disbanding?

  2. Why didn’t they choose to replace Jesus with one of his family? What was so categorically different about him that no one ever even considered this?

I could go on, but this is just one historical puzzle, arising from just one of many stark dis-analogies with other religions. If we trust what the disciples said, they saw the risen Jesus, and this solves the puzzle. If we distrust them, we are stuck with a yet unanswered puzzle. Perhaps scholars will come up with something someday, but right now non-Christian scholars haven’t found anything plausible to explain this anomaly.


A couple of other unique, and surprising things about the early church.

The first is that it was, although originating mainly amongst non-intellectuals, a teaching movement. This is very different from the mystery religions, in which the important thing was being initiated into mysteries and being wowed, whereas the Christians (Jewish and Gentiles) were taught the Jewish Scriptures interpreted in the light of Christ, and the teaching of Jesus and the apostles themselves. You can see the early emphasis on teaching both in Acts and in the early letters (such as Paul correcting theCorinthians on choosing between himself, Apollos and Peter’s teaching).

Even more surprising, in a highly stratified society, everyone learned together, men together with women and, scandalously, slaves along with their masters. You can see that in the NT epistles, where advice to each group is placed together. Imagine the equivalent in a Southern Plantation - masters being told in church not to mistreat their slaves and to regard them as equals in Christ in the hearing of those slaves. It was socially revolutionary in a world where 30-40% of the population were slaves and the economy depended upon it.

Secondly, this church of, primarily, socially and politically powerless people was a highly literary society, to the extent that it was widely regarded by the Greeks as a “new philosophy”, and mocked, because the “philosophers” were slaves, artisans and women. No socratic discussions between gentlemen over posh dinners here, but “workshops for transformation” amongst ordinary people, all dependent on the belief that Christ was alive, and persisted with, and rapidly growing, despite persecution from both Jews and the Roman authorities.

Along with that it’s now fairly clear that the use of the bound codex, as opposed to the scroll, for literature like the gospels (as opposed to for writing notes) originated by the early church, because of that very need for easily portable written texts. You read books now, according to the most recent historians, because a motley 1st century church were obsessed with writing down and reading out their gospel message.


That is my claim. You can just handwave it away, or try to actually provide a rational argument against it. So far, you seem to be opting for the former.

So far, the evidence presented in favour of the alleged resurrection is a mass market paper back book written by a retired cop with no academic credentials whatsoever.

It surprises me that I need to tell you this, but that is not serious scholarship.

Uh huh. So what? Walk me thru the logic by which this leads to the conclusion that Jesus was really resurrected, because it’s really not apparent from your post. Sure, if he really rose from the dead, that would be an explanation for why his followers believed this. And if Muhammad really spoke to God, then that would explain why his followers believed this. Still doesn’t mean that either claim is true, and the fact that we do not exactly who convinced the early Christians to believe in the resurrection does not eliminate the fact that followers of cults are readily convinced of all manner of things that are not, and cannot, be true.


Just to illustrate the logical error you are making here, which marks many of the argument made by Christian apologists: You are appealing to the supposed improbability of particular circumstances, but then suggest a literal impossibility as the solution. This is very poor thinking.

Let 's grant that it is highly improbable that the 11 would re-assemble after the death of their leader. I don’t really see what is so mind-bogglingly unlikely about that, TBH, but let’s grant that.

You now have to asses which is less probable: That 11 guys will get back together after having devoted their lives to following a leader after the death of that leader, or that this leader came back to life after being dead for 3 days.

I don’t see the algebra by which option 2 becomes clearly the more probable. Do you?


The aprior probability of the Ressurection is not zero, it’s undefined. Right?

I’m not sure what you mean by “undefined.”

Why would you limit your consideration to only those two centuries?

Wouldn’t this also apply to Buddhism?


Pointing in the direction of scholarship that supports the reliability of the Gospels, which in turn supports the historicity of the Resurrection - support analogous to which Scientology simply does not have - is not handwaving your claim.

False. You’re just ignoring the scholarship that has been referenced by (for example) @jongarvey and myself - which I mentioned in the post you just replied to.

You are calling the resurrection a literal impossibility, but that is only the case if atheism is true. Circular reasoning is also poor thinking.

This article provides exactly that. The contention is that if the Gospels are generally historically reliable in the non-miraculous details that they report about what people said and did, then the posterior probability for the Resurrection is high.

(And then it is an important question whether the Gospels are reliable, and the work of scholars mentioned in this thread - like Wright, Keener, Bauckham, Hurtado, Williams - becomes highly relevant, and it is begging the question to dismiss them. But if you can point out where they go wrong, I’d be happy to hear it…)


There is no scholarship that supports this. It supports early BELIEF in the resurrection, which is not remotely the same thing.

I have not denied that there is a small minority of scholars who believe the Gospels are accurate first person accounts, just as there is a small minority the believes Jesus was completely mythological.

I am talking about the scholarly consensus, which is not what you claim it is. If it was, you wouldn’t be citing an ex-cop as your ain “scholars.”

No, it is the conclusion of science. If the resurrection is not impossible, then it is not a miracle.

Poor reasoning.

If someone says he saw Bigfoot on a rainy day, and we can prove it was raining on the day the alleged sighting took place, that only raises the possibility that Bigfoot exists by the most minute degree.

There is no good way to evaluate the reliability of the Gospels, because they are the only record of almost all the events they recount. Any attempts to go beyond that are junk science.

Could you clarify something: Do you not accept the scholarship that says all the extant Gospels were copied from earlier documents and oral histories that have been lost?

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I’m curious where you’re getting these estimates of “small minority” from? Did you actually do a survey of the field? How do you know? You’ve repeated this claim multiple times in this thread, but I haven’t seen you discuss the views of any scholar in detail. Rather, your statements are all very general.

Also it’s odd to see you compare people like Richard Bauckham, Craig Keener, Larry Hurtado, Peter Williams, N. T. Wright, F. F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, and Craig Evans to Jesus mythicists.* All of the former are scholars respected in their field not only by other conservative scholars but also liberal ones. Hurtado, for example, is prof emeritus at Edinburgh. Wright is professor at St Andrews, and respected for his work in many other areas (e.g. the New Perspective on Paul) - a giant in the field of NT studies.

In contrast, as far as I know, the only scholars who are Jesus mythicists are Robert Price and Richard Carrier, both whose views are acknowledged as fringe. (Carrier doesn’t even have an academic position.) The other advocates of Jesus mythicism are all people who are not considered serious scholars, not even by Bart Ehrman. They are properly called amateurs. @Freakazoid, who is an actual graduate student in NT studies, can corroborate all of this, and possibly add more names. (Please don’t keep bringing up the J. Warner Wallace example, that’s a red herring and distraction. I think Matt, Josh, and I all agree that Wallace is more of an apologist than professional scholar.)

The second issue is that it seems you are not fully understanding the argument being made. It’s not that we’re claiming there is a consensus among historians that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Neither is there a consensus among historians that the Gospels are inerrant. (I’ve seen the word “reliable” used a lot here without a clear definition.) Some scholars (like Ehrman and Dale Allison, if I remember correctly), might affirm various historical facts about Jesus, but think that history can’t prove supernatural events. Still, there’s a difference between that and thinking that the Gospels are completely untrustworthy in anything they say.

Rather, the argument is that if we can establish the historicity of several key events relevant to Christianity, such as

  1. Jesus died via crucifixion.
  2. Jesus was buried in a tomb which was found empty later.
  3. The disciples experienced multiple post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
  4. The belief in Jesus’ resurrection was established early in the Church and became the basis for spreading the new faith.

then one can make a philosophical argument that these facts point to resurrection being a pretty good theory that fits the facts and explained what happened. Do you understand? It’s a two-step argument. The first step is gathering the pieces of the evidence reinforced by scholarly work. The second step is where the argument for Resurrection actually happens.

The question then turns on how much evidence do you need before you can be convinced that something supernatural did actually happen. For some people, that is a crazily high bar, so they will never be convinced by this argument. Maybe for you, even if there is good evidence that points 1-4 are true and you allow that they are not easily explained by any known naturalistic theory, the Resurrection is still too improbable to have occurred. That’s OK! At least be honest about it. There’s no need to pretend that Wright is in the same class as a Jesus mythicist.

Still, this makes me baffled to see statements like this:

Science only concludes that resurrections generally don’t happen. It’s an extremely improbable event to occur by natural causes. (I don’t think science can claim that it is literally impossible. I’m sure you know that science doesn’t deal with absolute proof.) Christians aren’t claiming that the resurrection happened naturally. As you said, if it happened naturally, then it wouldn’t be a miracle. Rather, Christians are claiming that it happened supernaturally.

It seems that for you, a resurrection is improbable, but even if there was a mountain of evidence that it did happen, that would prove it to be a naturalistic event. In either case, atheism is true. Of course, this is a heads I win, tails you lose kind of scenario.

*And these are just the more famous names; in fact I deliberately excluded people who might be more known for their apologetics work such as WLC, Habermas, and Licona, although these three are also people with legitimate scholarly work, far more than someone like Wallace.


This is an important point, and one that suggests that @Faizal_Ali, apart from not really having done any homework on the scholarship of this subject, is also hazy on the philosophy both of history and science.

Science since around 1880 has restricted itself methodologically to “natural” causes and effects (a different situation from, say, Bacon’s time when in theory providential divine acts might be studied by science, or Maxwell’s time when mentioning God’s works in scientific discourse was not problematic). Therefore, as you rightly indicate, science cannot say that a miracle is impossible, but only that it is impossible to deal with under the arbitrarily chosen methodology scientists use. This is (a) because the supernatural has been excluded from the field of study a priori, and (b) that it is simply incoherent to use a study of natural causation for supernatural causation.

The corollary is that there are many scientists thoroughly convinced that the resurrection happened, and that the biblical documents are truthful records, who (accepting their discipline’s methodological constrictions) agree that the resurrection is not amenable to scientific corroboration. For the same reason it is not demonstrable by cookery or by the rules of football: the wrong tools for the job.

The whole subject of methodological naturalism has, of course, been extensively discussed here at PS, but for our purposes it is a sociological given. One advantage that has been pointed out is that it enables the same science to be done by both believers and unbelievers - but that should not fool us into denying that both will draw metaphysical conclusions according to their convictions based on other, non-scientific grounds. This is philosophy of science 101.

Likewise, for a century or more, the discipline of modern historiography has arbitrarily decided that its business is to investigate the human and material causes and effects of events in the past - whether because of science-envy, or some other reason, methodological naturalism is part of the academic methodology of history. It has been decided, by historians, not by the events themselves, that the supernatural is not the proper subject matter of academic history.

In other words, history nowadays is not “gathering evidence for what happened in the past,” but “applying naturalistic tools to explain what happened in the past.”

This was not always so - in Roman times, for example, the key element was witness testimony no more than one or two points removed from events. A decent historian was there himself, or spoke to a credible witness, or at worst spoke to a reliable source who interviewed a witness. If one or more credible witnesses reported that a wondrous sign took place, you recorded it (not least because no historian then doubted that supernatural events do occur). If the story was doubtful, you also recorded that fact (eg “It is said that…”).

So by the very fact of doing academic history, good modern scholars cannot come to supernatural conclusions about events, and they can only point to the events leading up to, and following, what original sources record as supernatural. They can investigate the possibility of non-supernatural causes (instead of or as well as supernatural - a “natural” storm that brings unexpected victory in a battle might also be providential - the historian cannot arbitrate on that).

And they can (as, I think, a majority do in the case of the resurrection) conclude that none of these alternative explanations is really sufficient, at which point the most they may do as historians is remind readers that, like science, their discipline is simply incompetent to judge supernatural events, which by no means excludes them from “history” in the sense of “events.”

The person seeking the truth of the resurrection must therefore use science and history only to explore the background, at which point the individual must go beyond academia and ask, as a Roman historian would, “Is this witness to God’s action (in this case the New Testament) credible in the light of the events that I can demonstrate to be true?”

After a century or so of hyperskepticism (based largely on not recognising the limits of academic metaphysical assumptions), it is true to say that the last 50 years or so has been one in which thorough historical investigation has made a positive conclusion increasingly easy to draw, whilst alternative explanations from theft of the body to mythicism have failed to hold up.


Whereas that is what I am claiming. So if you are not denying my claim is true, what is there left to discuss?

That is not my claim.

These are not established facts by consensus of scholars. Even a source as biased in favour of the resurrection as Gary Habermas accepts this. He only lists #1 and #4 above as among his “minimal facts.” (If you read carefully, you will note that he does not endorse #3, though he might seem to on superficial reading.)

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This betrays a misunderstanding of science and how it operates.

If a guy died and came back to life, there is no reason that this could not be demonstrated using the scientific method.

This remains the case regardless of whether this occurrence was a manifestation of “supernatural forces.”

if you disagree, please explain why.

You seem to be confusing philiosophical/metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism.

Ah. So are not disagreeing with my assessment that, according the historians, the “resurrection” cannot be said to have happened.

Rather, your beef is with the entire discipline of history itself, and think they should change how they do things so that they will now agree with your religious beliefs.

I wish you luck with that.

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Wrong. My position is that the whole distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is pointless and unverifiable. We can only use observation and empirical evidence to determine the probability of certain occurrences and form principles and laws by which can predict which observations will be made in the future. Whether the things we observe are “natural” or “supernatural” is beyond our ability to know.

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@Faizal_Ali, before we go on, I’d like to focus on the main point in my post which you seem to have missed, namely:

Do you now agree that the various scholars that we have been adducing in support of our knowledge about various facts about Jesus’ life are not in the same class as Jesus mythicists?

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Again, this is just assuming atheism and therefore arguing in a circle. Science can support the conclusion that the resurrection is naturally impossible - that it cannot be produced by only natural causes - but that says very little about whether it is impossible simpliciter (pardon the philosophical jargon).

You know, it’s funny, the article that I linked by the McGrews calls Hume out for doing exactly what you are doing here - claiming the argument for the resurrection is invalid by knocking down an entirely different claim, without showing any relevant analogy between the two.

How is the Bayesian analysis in the McGrews’ similar to your little bigfoot story? Precisely what inference do they make, or what premise do they assume, that makes their argument “poor reasoning?”

False. There’s more ways to assess the reliability of a historical document than comparing it to different accounts of the same event (are you seriously suggesting that we can only know something in history if it’s recorded in more than one account?!). Moreover, it’s false to claim, as you are doing, that the Gospels are entirely dependent on one another so that they can only represent one source. There is dependence between Synoptics, but only partial dependence.

I’m assuming you’re not referring to the obvious and irrelevant fact that we don’t have the original manuscripts, but instead to the idea that the Gospels are composed using earlier documents and/or traditions. Sure, where there is evidence for earlier tradition (e.g. common material between the synoptics) I see no problem with that - though I’m not aware of any scholars who would say that all four gospels are composed that way in their entirety. But this point is at best tangentially relevant to their reliability, because we can still assess that reliability for the documents as we have them. Merely copying from earlier sources does not make them unreliable - it can even make them more likely to be reliable, since the earlier sources were closer to the events!


If they believe the resurrection is an historical fact, then no. They are in the same class, only less rational because they believe in physically impossible things.

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