Friday, 28 October 2011

Follow up on the Law / Craig debate

I have been in correspondence with a couple of people in response to some things I said about the William Lane Craig / Stephen Law debate. 

When I pointed out that "weird stuff happens" hardly constituted a demolition of the evidence of the resurrection of Christ, I got some feedback to which I responded.

I was told that there is just one dubious source for the resurrection of Christ, and there is no eyewitness testimony for the empty tomb.  However, there are, of course, multiple sources telling us about the resurrection of Christ - we have the four Gospels, the book of the Acts, and the epistles of Paul in which he specifically mentions his encounter with the risen Christ.  We do have eyewitness testimony of the empty tomb in John 20.  Now if someone is going to argue that this isn't eyewitness testimony I'm going to reply that no matter how smart that person thinks he is, he is not as well placed as those in the first and early second century to know who wrote John's Gospel, and if all the information and evidence (internal and external) we have from that time says it's John, then I don't see any reason to doubt that, but rather take it as good reason to believe it.

The correspondent went on to say that grave robberies were common back then.  Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but it doesn't really matter because the disciples did not believe in Christ's resurrection based on the empty tomb by itself - I mean John 20 shows that Mary thought the body had been taken, and other disciples just couldn't figure it out.  The disciples wouldn't have believed in the resurrection merely from an empty tomb, but it is also certain they wouldn't have believed in the resurrection without an empty tomb!

I went on to point out that these first century monotheistic Jews worshipped as God a man who had been crucified, they continued to believe in Him as the Messiah even though being hanged on a tree was, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, indicative of being under the curse of God; they abandoned Jewish ceremonial laws that were integral in their Jewish worship and key elements of their covenant relationship with God.  There must have been something powerful to cause this to happen.

The response I got to this was that there is no evidence that the first Christians abandoned any Jewish practices.  So I showed that in Acts 10-11 Peter's vision led to an abandonment of Jewish dietary laws, supported by what Paul taught in Romans 14 and Colossians 2

Paul also taught in that passage in Colossians that the Sabbaths, feasts and holy days, as well as the dietary laws are the shadows that find their fulfilment in Christ. 

I pointed out that Paul's decision not to have Titus circumcised was supported by Peter, John and James, according to Galatians 2

Paul said in Philippians 3 that circumcision is now nothing more than mutilation - it has no spiritual value. 

In addition, the writer to the Hebrews, writing prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, says that the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus has brought an end to all sacrifices, that all Christians engage in priestly ministry (confirmed by Peter), and all can enter into the immediate presence of God through the veil by the blood of Jesus.  It's not just that the writer was saying Gentiles don't need sacrifices and priests, he was saying Jews don't either.  In fact he was saying that to return to those sacrifices is to return to a system that cannot deal with your sins, it is to trample under foot the Son of God, count His blood as unholy and insult the Holy Spirit!

Now these things aren't minor, peripheral traditions, yet first century Jewish Christians saw them as having served their purpose and been brought to an end.  The question is why?  Why would the crucifixion of their leader have led them to that conclusion, unless... He was risen from the dead?

The response I got to this was that of course the Jews would relax their laws to win Gentiles.  But this raises huge difficulties!  Why did they only relax these laws and become so evangelical following the death of their leader?  Would they relax what they believed were God-given laws for the sake of Gentiles without having divine authority?  It seems to me if they didn't believe Jesus was living they mustn't have believed God was living either, because to do what they did off their own bat would be to sever themselves from the God of Israel and incur the curse of His law.  But if Christ had risen then they would have come to see that the law had been fulfilled.

He told me that it was "basic" that the texts we have got have been changed, and history is written by the winners.  Now note the evolution (and randomness) of his arguments - he started off by saying there's no evidence that Jewish ceremonies were abandoned, then, when presented with the evidence, he says the texts have been changed, and then he says history is written by the winners, implying the texts haven't been changed, they just aren't true!  This scatter-gun / anything-but-Christianity approach betrays a closed-minded attitude - he will come up with excuses for his unbelief, no matter how strong the evidence.

I replied by telling him that what is basic is that the vast quantity of manuscripts shows that the text of the New Testament is reliable, and nothing of any significance is in doubt, and the early Christians could hardly be called the winners!  His scepticism is without justification, especially when the claims of the apostles and their Lord can be put to the test experientially - the Lord offers new life to those who turn in repentance to Him - I have proved the reality of that in my own life, and have seen it in the lives of many others.