Yesterday three of us headed down to hear the very well known Christian apologist, philosopher and theologian, Gary Habermas, speak in Manchester as part of the Evangelical Alliance's Think Resurrection tour. Professor Habermas' Wikipedia entry can be found here.
It was quite a shock that so few people were there. I don't think the events was very well publicised. It was a shame. Those of us who made it were given a real treat. Prof. Habermas is a great speaker and communicator, and evidently knows what he is talking about.
Below, I've sought to reproduce what I can from the notes I made from Prof. Habermas' sessions.
Session 1: Paul on the resurrection of Jesus
In his first lecture, Prof. Habermas spoke of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that is provided from Paul’s letters; evidence which has been commonly underplayed by evangelicals who have relied on the later Gospel accounts. He mainly used 1 Corinthians and Galatians to establish the evidence from Paul’s writings, as they are amongst the letters considered ‘indisputably’ written by Paul.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul speaks of ‘what I received I passed on to you of first importance … that [Christ] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ Virtually all scholars agree that Paul is presenting an ancient creed concerning Jesus' death and resurrection which is actually much earlier than the composition of 1 Corinthians. In these verses himself, Paul says that he had preached the same message whilst in Corinth (dated at 51-52 AD through the pro-consulship of Gallio, mentioned in Acts 18:12, 14 and 17).
According to Prof. Habermas, that this material is earlier than Paul is evident from many facts, such as the usage of the technical terms ‘delivered’ and ‘received’ (which indicate the giving of oral tradition); the proper names of Peter and James, and the probability of an original creed in Aramaic. Even critical scholars generally agree that the creed has a very early origin.
Many scholars date Paul's receiving of this creed from two to eight years after the crucifixion itself, or from about 32-38 AD. Most of those who comment on the issue hold that Paul most likely received this material during his visit in Jerusalem with Peter and James (see Galatians 1:18-19), who are included in the list of appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). It’s reckoned that this first meeting with Peter and James, recorded in Galatians, happened within six years of Jesus’ crucifixion.
There are several indications that the content (and perhaps words) of this ‘gospel creed’ are apostolic:
- Paul mentions very early resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). He probably received the list from a couple of them.
- Paul himself is the eyewitness and source behind the appearance of 1 Corinthians 15:8.
- Paul asserts that the apostles as a whole were themselves currently teaching the very same message about Jesus’ resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:11, 14-15; see also Galatians 2:6, 9-10).
- On at least two occasions, Paul specifically checked the nature of the gospel he was preaching (which includes Jesus’ resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) with the other apostles and found that the content of his teaching was accurate (see Galatians 1:11-2:10). The ‘we’ of 1 Corinthians 15:11 refers to the preaching of all the apostles: Paul and the other apostles were evidently agreed on the message of the resurrection.
Fascinatingly, apparently these facts have been accepted by liberal scholars, including those of the Jesus Seminar. Even Gert Ludemann, an atheist New Testament scholar, agrees that the oral tradition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 must have been formed within 2-3 years of the crucifixion! Thus even if a person doubts the conclusion concerning the actual date and specific location of the creedal material given to Paul, there is still an excellent foundation for it being early and apostolic in nature. This very early report of Jesus' resurrection appearances clearly link the eyewitness content of the gospel with its later proclamation. All of the evidence shows that the participants actually did see the risen Jesus, both individually and in groups.
Thus Prof. Habermas was keen to show that there is another path through Paul’s writings to the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection, which backs up the Gospel accounts. He recommended Paul Barnett's 'Jesus and the Logic of History' as further reading.
Session 2: The Uniqueness of Christ
In the second of his lectures, Prof. Habermas focused on the uniqueness of Christ. In particular, he made the point that both Jesus’ resurrection and deity were preached right from the very earliest parts of Christian history.
It has long been the received wisdom among New Testament scholars that John’s Gospel presents a portrait of Jesus as divine, coming down from heaven, whereas the Synoptic Gospels do not consider him in such exalted terms, and specifically contain no hints of Jesus being pre-existent. In other words, a common claim is that Jesus’ deity was increasingly established across the 1st Century as Christian thought developed. However, Prof. Habermas claimed that Jesus is clearly portrayed as God even in the Synoptic Gospels. In Mark 14:61, for example, in responding to the questioning of the high priest at his trial, Jesus ties together the titles ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of the Blessed One’ (‘Son of God’). Jesus portrays himself as a figure worthy of worship (drawing upon the language of Daniel 7:13-14 and possibly also 1 Enoch 46:1-4 and 48:2-10). Other references which clearly portray Jesus as God include Matthew 11:27 (and the parallel in Luke 10:22), Mark 13:32 and Mark 14:36. In short, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes incredible claims about himself. Indeed, if Jesus is not speaking the truth of himself, then he has committed the blasphemy laws of Deuteronomy 13 and 18. He recommended reading ‘The Pre-Existent Son’ by Simon Gathercole as essential further reading on this matter.
Prof. Habermas then listed six things that make Jesus unique amongst other religious teachers and philosophers:
1. No other founder of a world religion claimed to be divine.
2. No other founder of a world religion is believed to have been raised from the dead.
3. No other founder of a world religion has miracles performed by them recorded within a generation.
4. No other founder of a world religion claims himself to be the way to salvation (i.e. Jesus effectively says, “How you respond to me determines whether or not your receive salvation”).
5. No other founder of a world religion says that their death is important – even indispensable – to their mission.
6. No other founder of a world religion claimed that suffering is central to the belief system they inaugurate (contrasting especially with Buddhism, which says that suffering is illusory and not real).
All in all, the sessions were excellent. I believe the recordings will be made available by the EA and are well worth getting your hands on!