1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
Paul and the Resurrection was inspired by insights gained during my doctoral research. My dissertation was a project of analytic theology that explored the structure of Paul’s claim to knowledge of the Resurrection, and proposed that his thesis of epistemic justification was dependent upon factors of religio-cultural context and kerygmatic situation. Among the more significant conclusions of this study was that the earliest testimonial evidence concerning the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8) can be analyzed as a set of propositions that feature “positive interrelations.” By its proper inclusion in this set, Paul’s own testimony is rendered considerably more probable. In this book, I apply this and other findings to argue that Paul strongly substantiates the case for the Resurrection, even in the face of conceivable challenges.
2. In the introduction, you mention that, “The Christian understanding of the historical Resurrection of Christ...is informed predominantly by Paul.” What would you say to someone who is struggling to believe this, knowing that Paul was not present during the forty days after Christ’s resurrection when he appeared to his disciples? And why might we focus on Paul rather than Peter or John?
Firstly, this statement is generally noncontroversial among specialists. Secondly, while Paul was almost certainly not present during the forty days following the Resurrection, he nonetheless furnishes the primary source material of historiographical analysis. In Paul’s writings we find the earliest and best-attested evidence for the claim that Jesus returned from the grave, and his epistles provide independent corroboration of the gospel narratives.
What is more, while Paul was last among the apostles to witness the risen Christ, the story of his own visionary experience is the most salient (Acts 9:1–9, 26:12–32; 1 Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:11–24). Paul also gives us the primary basis of doctrinal formulation on the nature of the resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:35–58; 1 Thess. 4:13–18). Finally, it is Paul who tells us that saving faith hinges on the historicity of the Easter miracle (1 Cor. 15:14): Christ was raised as the “firstfruits” of the church’s corporate redemption (vv. 20–23), and it is his victory over death that justifies the believer’s hope for personal immortality.
3. You discuss how Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) laid the groundwork for modern historical skepticism. What was his view of Miracles and how has it impacted the conversation of Christ’s Resurrection since his time?
His Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748) contains a multifaceted, critical discussion of miracles. For Hume, miracles should be regarded as neither possible nor knowable for reasons of philosophical implausibility, untrustworthy testimony, and religious contradiction.
Hume’s Enquiry was met with cogent apologetic responses in his own era; and in recent generations, philosophers of religion have developed even more powerful refutations of his arguments. Nonetheless, the Humean critique does persist among skeptics as the favored objection to reports of the supernatural.
For instance, in the field of New Testament studies, Bart Ehrman has emerged as perhaps the most popular representative of Hume’s thought. Ehrman has argued that any hypothesis inclusive of a miracle is by definition the least plausible of all explanatory options. Inasmuch as historians must choose the most probable of explanations, they are never justified in selecting such a hypothesis. As he says, “Since historians can only establish what probably happened in the past, and the chances of a miracle happening, by definition, are infinitesimally remote, historians can never demonstrate that a miracle probably happened.”
Such reasoning is simply untenable. If one has satisfactory reason to believe that God exists, the inherent probability of a miracle is not necessarily low. Beginning with a rationally-grounded theism, we may say that God might or might not choose to act in the course of time by miraculous intervention. It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that at critical points in human history, and under specific circumstances, he would actually be inclined to act via a miracle.
Moreover, application of the appropriate probability theorem will show that notwithstanding the inherent improbability of a miracle, a person may nonetheless be rational in believing that statistically unlikely occurrence had in fact taken place. On the Bayesian model, the prior probability of an event is determined on the background information, yet one must also calculate the probability of the specific evidence being just as it is if the event had not occurred. In this way, the total probability of an event may be properly assessed. If it is determined that the evidence is sufficiently more probable given that the event did occur (than given that it did not), then it is more probable than not that the event took place.
4. Central to your book is the question, “Was Paul Deceptive, Deluded, Developed, or Dependable?” Can you provide a brief explanation of this argument? Additionally, are there other possible options that aren’t listed here?
Regardless of their religious affiliation or philosophical persuasion, the vast majority of scholars agree that belief in the Resurrection emerged suddenly and unexpectedly within the nascent Christian community. This fact applies also to Paul, who came to be numbered among the apostles within a few years of the crucifixion. Despite a strong predisposition to the contrary, Paul suddenly and sincerely came to believe that he had encountered the risen Jesus. His radical departure from his native Judaism and adoption of this firm conviction is an essential component of the “historical bedrock” of the Resurrection narrative.
Whether by a hypothesis of strictly natural causality or divine agency, an account of the origin of Paul’s belief and testimony must be offered. Within the current debate, four explanatory categories can be distinguished:
- Deception: Paul was a charlatan who manufactured his experiences to invent the Christian faith. Motivated by an ambition to accumulate wealth and attain power, he set-out to found a new religious sect by mythologizing the historical Jesus (if in fact he thought him to exist at all).
- Delusion: Paul suffered from a psychiatric disorder and experienced a number of hallucinatory episodes. His vision on the Damascus road was confined to his own consciousness, a product of improperly functioning cognitive faculties.
- Development: Paul came to believe a tale of religious folklore that arose in the years following Jesus’ death. His writings conform to the genre of ancient myth; or perhaps, he accepted the legend as descriptive of a figurative/metaphysical event, eventually including himself as a participant.
- Dependability: Paul was sincere, mentally stable, and accurately informed. His claim to have seen and heard the risen Christ is a trustworthy account of an actual historical occurrence.
If Paul is best explained by any of the first three options, then it must be conceded that he offers no contribution to the biblical evidence for the miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection. Contrastingly, if Paul can be vindicated as dependable, then his eye-witness reportage must be treated as incontestable in the case for the earliest of Christian confessions: that Christ was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).
5. Why is it important to regard the New Testament writings as, “a collection of ancient documents rather than a divinely inspired compilation of prophetic writings” when assessing its historical authenticity and reliability?
Presupposing the doctrine of divine inspiration would prejudice the researcher as to the outcome of his investigation. While it is of course necessary to make certain methodological suppositions, a fair assessment of competing hypotheses cannot begin under the assumption that the biblical text is the product of prophetic revelation, since the provenance of Paul’s belief and reliability of Paul’s testimony are the matters in question.
6. At the very beginning of Part Two, you say: “From the outset, it may be helpful to make a distinction between the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.”
Briefly, why is this important to do?
In the interest of clarity, we should distinguish between the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. The former is a doctrine of eschatology, and, as such, concerns a point of biblical interpretation that must be decided by theological inquiry. The latter is a biblical doctrine as well, yet it is also a historical claim that emerges at the intersection of analytic theology and applicable domains of historical inquiry, including biblical criticism and ancient historiography. In this text, my focus concerns the individual Resurrection of Jesus as a past event, rather than the corporate resurrection of the church as a future event.
7. Is there any advice or thoughts you would share with the reader as they approach this book?
Absolutely. I’m sure the reader will find that not unlike Baby Yoda, this book is small, green, and deceptively powerful.