Let me put my cards on the table. I’m a Christian who believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but I’m not employed in academia. I was once strongly persuaded by apologetic arguments in favor of the Resurrection of Jesus, but I no longer think those arguments work. For my part, I believe in the Resurrection partly on the basis of the Christian message (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount), and partly on pragmatic grounds, because of the difference Christianity has made to the world (e.g. without Christianity, female infanticide and slavery would still be prevalent worldwide today).
I’ve been looking at your video, Who Saw Risen Jesus? Dr. Andrew Loke Responds to @Paulogia and I think you have mounted a convincing rebuttal to most of Paulogia’s arguments, as well as demonstrating that he has misquoted you and other Christian apologists. I also agree with you that it’s certain beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus was seen by one or more groups of people on one or more occasions, after his death, rather than by a single individual (e.g. Peter or Paul) as Paulogia proposes.
However, I do not agree that this kind of evidence is anything like enough to establish the truth (or high historical probability) of Jesus’ resurrection, even when we factor in additional evidence such as the willingness of the apostles to be martyred, and the implausibility of alternative naturalistic explanations.
Re 1 Corinthians 15, I’d just like to bring to your attention a paper written by Ryan Turner, of the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM), titled, An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. In his paper, Turner points out that there is considerable disagreement among scholars as to what the original form of this creed was. Some scholars argue that the original form of the creed went like this: "“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” In other words, there is no scholarly consensus that the appearance to the 500 was part of the original creed (which is very old and probably goes back to before 40 A.D.) It may have been a Pauline addition.
Now, you may argue that Paul would not have added this segment to the original creed unless he believed that it was historically true, and I agree with you. But that does not mean that Paul rigorously fact-checked its accuracy. Remember: Paul was already convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. After all, he’d had a personal apparition of Jesus. He also knew other Christians, some of whom had seen Jesus too. No doubt, too, he trusted most of these Christians, who lived by a simple code of “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no,’ no.” So all we need suppose is that Paul got his story about the appearance to the 500 from a source whom he highly trusted, and that he repeated this story in his first letter to the Corinthians, because he sincerely believed it was true. But who was this source? Paul does not say. For that reason, it is impossible for people living in the 21st century to know whether such an apparition actually took place or not.
Now, you argue that the Corinthians could have checked out Paul’s story for themselves, and that it would have reflected badly on Paul if it turned out he was mistaken. Indeed, you argue that the skeptical Corinthians would have carefully checked out Paul’s testimony regarding Jesus’ Resurrection, before coming to believe in it. A couple of quick points in reply:
(1) I think it’s probably fair to say that one person’s testimony, however sincere, would not have been enough to convince the Corinthians that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.
(2) In any case, the Corinthians knew of other Christian leaders, such as Peter and Apollos, as 1 Corinthians 1 reveals. It’s quite likely they asked these leaders about their apparitions of Jesus, assuming they met them.
(3) The early Christians were also famous for healing the sick. A public and instantaneous healing of several people who were widely believed to have been incurably ill could well have been enough to sway any doubters, without the need to consult all of the Twelve, let alone the 500.
(4) The Corinthians would have been highly motivated to check out Jesus’ Resurrection. They would not have been so highly motivated to check out each and every account of an appearance of Jesus, such as the appearance to the 500. In short: we have no reason to suppose they actually sent someone to Jerusalem to follow up on that particular story.
(5) In any case, there are independent reasons for doubting the historicity of the apparition to the 500. Put briefly: if Pilate had heard reports that no less than 500 people claimed to have seen, spoken with or eaten with a man whom he had previously condemned to death in front of a large crowd of people, he would surely have ordered an investigation. So, why didn’t he? Also, wouldn’t the Jewish leaders have called on Pilate to re-arrest Jesus and condemn him to death a second time, if they had heard a story about him appearing to 500 people? After all, they had every reason for wanting to kill off Christianity once and for all, as they regarded it as a blasphemous heresy.
As Turner acknowledges in his paper (cited above), many scholars doubt the authenticity of the rest of the Pauline creed (which describes subsequent appearances of Jesus to James and all the apostles). So we are left with the appearances to Peter and to the Twelve, and later to Paul, as the only ones which are highly probable on historical grounds. The only group apparition here is the appearance to the Twelve. Nearly all scholars agree that this episode is historical.
What we don’t know, however, is whether the eleven (or twelve) apostles had an essentially identical experience or whether they merely had overlapping experiences, with a solid core of agreement. For instance, they may all have seen Jesus approaching them and perhaps heard him say, “Greetings! Peace be with you!”, but their experiences may have diverged after that point. Or Peter, James and John may have substantially agreed on what they saw and heard, while the others merely saw Jesus but did not hear him. (I’m thinking of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, where Francesco saw Our Lady but didn’t hear her or see her lips move, while Lucia and Jacinta, who both saw and heard Our Lady, didn’t always hear the same thing. Nevertheless, the three children showed themselves willing to die for their faith in the reality of the apparitions: these little divergences in the details of what they saw and heard did not shake their faith.) A skeptic might add that Peter, James and John were individuals who were prone to having visions, as shown by the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, which they witnessed. Moreover, the Acts of the Apostles says almost nothing about the other members of the Twelve: these three are central figures, along with Paul and James the brother of Jesus.
Lastly, regarding the solidity of the risen Jesus’ body: while we can be quite sure that the disciples did not believe Jesus was merely a ghost or disembodied spirit, it does not follow that they personally went to the trouble of verifying his solidity. It is quite plausible to suppose that they drew this conclusion on other, independent grounds: (i) the discovery that his tomb was empty (as to how it became empty, a skeptic might argue that the body might have been removed by enemies of Jesus who didn’t want his disciples turning the tomb into a shrine, and who would’ve subsequently kept silent about their highly illegal act, even when it backfired); (ii) Jesus had previously predicted his resurrection on numerous occasions in the Gospels; and (iii) the disciples subsequently found passages in the Scriptures which appeared (retrospectively) to confirm their belief in his resurrection. The original appearance of Jesus might have been that of a luminous being (think of Paul’s experience). Belief in Jesus’ solidity may have been an inference that the disciples made later on.
I’ve been playing devil’s advocate here, and at this point I will stop. The general point I want to make is that “coulda-woulda-shoulda”-style arguments are highly dubious when we are dealing with an alleged supernatural occurrence that took place 2,000 years ago, among a people whose mindset was very different from our own. We don’t know how their minds would have functioned under such circumstances, and we don’t know what standards of evidence they would have demanded. What we do know is that apparently disconfirming evidence (no Second Coming after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.) failed to stop the Christian movement - and I don’t think it should have, either, in view of the fact that we don’t know what Jesus actually said on the subject. However, on strictly evidential grounds, I find it difficult to rule out the hypothesis proposed by the late Professor Maurice Casey, in his work, Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark International, 2010), where he suggests that Biblical prophecy , coupled with Jesus’ own prediction that he would rise again, may have played a vital role in generating belief in Jesus’ Resurrection, among his disciples. As he puts it:
The following conclusions may therefore be drawn. Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind. He was probably buried in a common criminals’ tomb, where his body rotted in a normal way. He had however predicted his Resurrection in terms which did not imply bodily resurrection or belief in an empty tomb. After his death, his bereaved followers, including Simeon the Rock and some other members of the Twelve, as well as Jesus’ brother Jacob, had visions of him, which they interpreted as Resurrection appearances. They studied the Scriptures and found in them proofs of his Resurrection. The passages which they studied included Psalms 41 and 118, as Jesus had taught them, and Psalms 15 and 110, which, as far as we know, they studied themselves. (2010, pp. 497-498.)
There are problems with Casey’s skeptical view, of course: for instance, his skepticism regarding Jesus’ burial in a separate tomb (more specifically, a marked grave) places him somewhat “to the left” of most Biblical scholars. But it’s certainly a tenable view, and although it may seem rather improbable, I can’t see any good argument that renders it hugely improbable.
However, Casey, who is ever the gentleman, freely acknowledges that the Christian view is perfectly compatible with the available evidence: “In other words, the historical evidence is in no way inconsistent with the belief of the first disciples, and of many modern Christians, that God raised Jesus from the dead, and granted visions of the risen Jesus to the first disciples, and to St. Paul on the Damascus Road” (2010, p. 498).
So I think we should simply agree that the evidence available to us today doesn’t settle the matter, and leave it at that. Faith is a choice.
Heads-up: have you read Eric Bess’s online article, Andrew Loke on the Resurrection: A Skeptic’s Review? Thought you might want to respond. Cheers.
Finally, I would urge you to read Matthew Wade Ferguson’s 2017 article, Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels - especially the footnotes, which are invaluable.