Interview on The indoubt Show
Are you skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection? In light of Easter, I was grateful to do this interview on The indoubt Show, a radio show hosted by Isaac Dagneau. We’re especially grateful for our friends at indoubt who provided the transcript to our interview, which you can read below. You can also follow their podcast here.
Episode 115: Doubt and the Resurrection
March 26, 2018
Isaac: With me today is Andreas Köstenberger. Andreas is Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s also written many different kinds of books, including books to help you with Greek commentaries, different teachings on theology and faith and more. It’s great to have you with us again today, Andreas.
Andreas: Absolutely, love being with you Isaac. Thanks for having me.
Isaac: Yeah, for sure, and to our listeners, if you didn’t tune in a couple months ago, you wouldn’t have heard Andreas with us for two weeks, as we talked about some points from his book, along with two other authors called Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World, a very concise short book that really tackles some of the popular skeptical assertions made about the Bible, about Jesus, about the resurrection and things like that. In fact, our conversation today is really the last segment of that miniseries because we didn’t quite get to it last time we were together. Before we jump into that, Andreas, I know we have such a short period of time together
but for those who don’t know who you are who are listening to the radio right now, can you just tell us a quick little bit about yourself?
Andreas: Absolutely. Well, I grew up Roman Catholic, nominally. I was not a Christian when I went to high school or even college. I was converted at the end of my time in college. I was about 23 over in Vienna, Austria, where I’m originally from and I was your typical young European university student and was quite intellectual and was just looking for truth and for answers. I had this deep void in my heart in terms of my parents’ divorce and just relationships not working out and then somehow God pursued me. I had the Bible read to me for the first time where my heart was opened, and it’s from Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit and the works of our sinful nature and they just stirred a deep longing in my heart to know God better and also a conviction of my sinfulness that I realized I could not save myself. I needed a Saviour and so I was just so grateful to find out and to hear what Jesus has done for me in the cross and I accepted that. I prayed to ask Christ to save me and to come into my life and I’ve really never been the same. For me, my conversion was also my call to ministry. I came to the States to go to seminary and then later joined the faculty at a couple different schools. Then the last 20 plus years, I’ve been serving at Southeastern teaching the New Testament and biblical theology.
Isaac: Yeah, it’s so good. I think it’s helpful for people to get an understanding of the voice that’s talking to them. But all right, so what I’m going to do now is quote Bart Ehrman, who is a popular New Testament scholar, who went from being a believing Christian to a skeptic when it comes to things about the physical Bible and Jesus and Christianity as the religion and so on and so forth. Obviously, you know more about that than I do, Andreas. And then Andreas, I would love for you to respond to that quote, and then we’ll sort of springboard from there, especially now since we’re talking about Easter. This is a very pertinent topic, the resurrection.
Here is Bart’s quote in reference to the resurrection. This is what Bart says, “But then something else happened. Some of them began to say that God had intervened and brought him, that is Jesus, back from the dead. The story caught on and some or all, we don’t know, of his closest followers came to think that in fact he had been raised.” And I’ll also quickly just read 1 Corinthians 15:14 in which Paul writes, “And if Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Here we’ve got Paul saying this, we got Bart saying this. Help us out here Andreas.
Andreas: Absolutely, well to initially counter that quote with another quote from N.T. Wright, who’s a leading scholar, he says the historian may and must say that all other explanations for why Christianity rose and why it took the shape it did are far less convincing as historical explanations than the one the early Christians themselves offer, that Jesus really did rise from the dead on Easter morning, leaving an empty tomb behind him. I just want to right from the start point out that there are other scholars who look at the same evidence who arrived at a very, very different conclusion from the way Bart Ehrman did.
I think in many ways as we talk about as you mentioned during Truth Matters and then also in Truth in the Culture of Doubt, which is a little more in depth, still we point out that the root issue is not lack of evidence or lack of plausibility unreasonableness. It’s really this deep-rooted skepticism that I think is really something for any intelligent person to watch out for because once you’ve adopted this highly skeptical stance, it’s almost impossible. You’ve set the bar of evidence so high that you’re demanding virtual certainty and nothing is likely ever to dislodge that skeptical stance, whether it’s toward the Bible, like we talked about last time, whether it’s about why this God, if he exists, allows suffering or whether it’s about contradictions in the Bible and so forth. It’s almost like at that point, anything you look at, you’re going to have not just a doubting attitude, because I think doubt can be healthy. It can lead you to question, and I think as Christians we need to be very open to engage people with the evidence but I’m talking about a skeptic like Bart Ehrman, who you just quoted, who’s, I think, one step removed from just doubting or asking for questions. I think he’s pretty much already predetermined that no evidence is ever going to change his mind.
Isaac: Wow, yeah. Andreas, why is it that some of us can be so prone to this skepticism rather than healthy doubt?
Andreas: Well, I think, Bart Ehrman himself wrote a book called God’s Problem, where he talks about the fact that even though he’s a text critic, he deals with whether or not the Bibles we have today are reliable copies of the original manuscripts. But his ultimate problem, by his own admission, is not text criticism. It’s not the word here or there that might be different in the manuscripts. It’s ultimately that he cannot accept that God allows inexplicable suffering and yet in the Bible, we have multiple explanations of why suffering happens, and he recognizes that but for some reason, it presents an insurmountable obstacle of faith for him.
I think in the end, faith is vital. You simply need to be open to the reality of evil and the problem of evil and the existence of a loving and good and merciful and wise God. There’s a certain mystery that we do need to accept by faith and to not harden ourselves toward it, and there’s a bit of a mystery also why some people are able to do that by God’s grace and others simply find it impossible to accept that God would allow suffering, even to suspend a certain amount of quest for certainty and to be willing to go with probability. At the end of our book Truth Matters, we quote Tim Keller and he said, he often talks with his skeptical friends and he tells them that even if you don’t believe the resurrection, you should want it to be true, because without the resurrection, we really don’t have hope. We really don’t have anywhere to go in terms of hope for the afterlife, hope for true meaning in this life.
And so, Christianity offers great hope. It’s this wager that Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher was talking about, that, are you willing to go with what’s less than certain but certainly reasonable and probable or are you going to insist uncertainty and maybe lose it all at the end?
Isaac: Yeah, that’s good. It’s a good introduction as we approach some of the things about the resurrection. I think it’s important that we touch on that fact first before we jump here. As I read that chapter about the resurrection, you and the other authors say that the tomb was empty. We’re just jumping right into the facts here, so you make it sound as I’m reading it that that is a fact that before we start to address different theories, we have to come to the same realization that there was an empty tomb, that there’s not really anything against that.
Andreas: Absolutely. Where’s Jesus body, right? As far as anyone knows, he has never been found. All that people had to do to disprove the resurrection of Jesus was to produce his body. That would have settled the question once and for all, but the fact is not only was the tomb empty, but Jesus’ body has never been found. How do you account for that? I think that is historical evidence and whether it’s Bart Ehrman or any skeptic, you simply have to come up with a more viable historical explanation for that than the resurrection.
Isaac: Right, yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about some of these theories that different skeptics adopt, so hallucination, fabrications?
Andreas: Absolutely, let’s briefly mention it. In our book we mentioned these three and then that would add a fourth one.
The hallucination theory is simply a psychological explanation that people saw some sort of in their mind’s eye, like a dream or vision or some kind, but of course there’s a more existentialist exploitation, if you will, that Jesus didn’t really historically rise from the dead or physically rise, but it is something that people imagined and maybe saw in their mind’s eye and so they ended up believing it so strongly that at the end, they couldn’t really distinguish anymore between reality and what was really just something in their own mind.
The second explanation is the fabrication theory that the disciples concocted a giant hoax, even though they knew it wasn’t true, which involved stealing the body. In the end, of course, you have to ask yourself how plausible is it that a large number of people would simply fabricate something and then follow through something that they knew was not true. Thirdly is the so-called swoon theory or there are other names for it, but it’s the idea that Jesus wasn’t really dead, he was only unconscious or that perhaps an impostor died in Jesus’ place. But again, you have to ask the same set of questions. How plausible is that over against in some ways for simple explanation that Jesus actually did rise from the dead and perhaps briefly fourthly, that I think Bart Ehrman actually breaks some new ground. His solution for the empty tomb is that there really was no tomb and that Jesus was actually not even buried.
The reason why he says that is because in the earliest creed, it does not actually identify the person who buried Jesus, which the gospel said was Joseph of Arimathea. So he then concludes from the fact that we don’t know or the identity is not included in that creed, maybe then since there was nobody that buried Jesus, maybe he wasn’t even buried in the first place, which again seems to be a bit of a jump and again I just listed those four theories without necessarily critiquing them because I feel it’s important first to try to understand what the essence of those different theories, alternative theories is, make sure we understand what critics are actually alleging before trying to succinctly critique each one of them.
And my overall assessment is that in each case, it takes more faith to believe those alternative theories than faith in the actual historicity of the resurrection.
Isaac: Yeah. As you’re talking about, just as an example, the hallucination theory, if it was just, if Jesus just presented himself to 12, the 12 disciples let’s say, I can maybe believe a little bit more that, “Okay, that could be the 12 of them that could have hallucinated.” But then we read Paul’s account and again, 1 Corinthians 15, that he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time so we would have to say that 500 people plus were all hallucinating, which is very not probable.
Andreas: Absolutely and people like Ehrman realize that that’s a bit of a problem to think there’s a mass hallucination going on, so he actually disputes that account, believe it or not. He says that that really, all we know is that maybe three or four people saw the risen Jesus. He says Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, he grants interestingly, even as a skeptic and then he says possibly James and I would say, well, what about someone like Thomas right? He was actually a skeptic himself. I mean he was unlikely to have fabricated this. What about Paul, for example? Of course, Paul really was not looking to meet the risen Jesus. He thought he was an impostor, so again the implausibility of people like a Thomas or a Paul fabricating or just hallucinating is just, like I said, it takes a lot more faith to believe that and to believe that the risen Jesus appeared to them.
Isaac: You know that’s so good. I’m so glad you were able to kind of help us through some of
these facts and things like that. Andreas, I think of my own family. My parents did not grow up in Christian homes and they were actually saved at a church in downtown Vancouver and the pastor was giving an apologetic on the resurrection and the Holy Spirit just turned my parents hearts towards the Saviour. That’s why it’s so powerful. The resurrection is so powerful.
Andreas, moving now from more of that apologetic dialogue. Now, I really do want to hear your response to this thought and question. For the Christian, Easter can, for a lot of Christians, become so normal, so mediocre, just something that they do every year, like Thanksgiving.
Maybe the music has a little bit more, bigger production, all those different things. I’m wondering Andreas, as someone who’s just spent their life digging into the Bible, can you reignite our passion and our zeal for this event, for this day? Perhaps we’re missing something from Easter that we need to reflect on once more.
Andreas: Yeah, I love that question and I love the way you draw a connection between the resurrection and Easter because of course at Easter, that is at the heart of our celebration.
When I did work on my book The Final Days of Jesus, what I rediscovered is that Christianity is all about a person, about Jesus Christ. It’s not just a set of beliefs and affirmations about kind of a set of abstract truths or creator catechism that we recite or memorize. Christianity is all about Jesus, who pre-existed from eternity. He was born of Mary, who lived a sinless life, who died on the cross for us, who was buried, and he rose from the dead on the third day. It’s all about him. The truth of Christianity stands or rises with these facts about Jesus’ life and person. I think that’s why the resurrection is so important. When you think about other religions, they’re about some maybe mystical communion with the divine, they’re about self-improvement, they’re about good works and how to make yourself acceptable to God.
Christianity by contrast is about Jesus and what he’s done for us. I remember even as a skeptic myself when I first heard the gospel, I was just struck by the fact that there’s nothing I needed to do. I simply needed to gratefully accept what Jesus had already done for me. That was just so powerful. It was so simple, and it was so maybe counterintuitive at that time, but at the same time, I remember I was so in awe of grace and once I had discovered for myself, I just went to, as you mentioned, different members of my family and tried to explain to them that it’s all about grace. There’s nothing we need to do. Christianity is all about what God has done for us in Christ.
Isaac: That’s so good. I’m wondering too that in Romans 6, Paul says in verse 5 “For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.” How does this kind of more metaphorical or is it not metaphorical, is it true? What is he trying to get out there?
Andreas: That’s a great question. 1 Corinthians 15, if anyone is listening will be definitely worth reading because there, Paul who himself saw the risen Christ, says that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then forget about Christianity. This is so vital and then Paul also writes in Colossians 1 that Christ is the first fruits from the dead. He was the first to rise. Then in Hebrews we’re talking about Jesus as a forerunner. He was a pioneer. He’s the leader of our faith, so he entered heaven as the first and we would follow in due course. I think we genuinely share in the resurrection. Probably the most encouraging verse in the entire Bible for me is in Ephesians chapter 1, where it says the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in us who believe. Just think about that, the same power that raised Jesus, which is the greatest power known to man, that same power now is at work in us who believe. I believe that’s through the power of the Holy Spirit who enables us now to live the life that God created us to live in the first place.
Isaac: So good Andreas, and for those of us who maybe have family members or friends who, I guess maybe are discouraged or they’re just sort of distracted by the world at this time of year, what is a way that you could sort of encourage us to help encourage them at this time of year? What things can we say and what ways can we live and really model the reality of the resurrection?
Andreas: Well, I think one thing is simply meditate on the many benefits that we have in Christ. I mentioned Ephesians 1. That’s a great chapter where Paul has this long sentence that stretches from Ephesians 1:3 all the way to, I think, verse 14 when he recites all the benefits that we have – forgiveness of sins, we have actual real forgiveness. You look at the world around us and people don’t know what to do with their guilt, with the things they’ve done in their lives, they’re haunted by them, we know that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all in righteousness (1 John 1:9), and the list goes on and on. We have been predestined, we’ve been adopted into God’s family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we’re united in Christ’s body, the church and again, as you know, we don’t have time to recite them all, but I think that would be a great thing to reignite our faith to just ponder and meditate on and just give thanks to God in prayer for all the things that he’s done for us in Christ.
Isaac: It’s so good. Well, thank you so much, Andreas. Again, I really appreciate talking with you. If you’re interested in this book, Andreas’ book that he co-wrote with two other authors, Truth Matters, you can head to Amazon, pick it up or go to our episode page, find it there. And also as Andreas mentioned earlier, for a more in-depth read, look for Truth in a Culture of Doubt and I’ll also put that on a link on the episode page as well and also, one more thing, head to biblicalfoundations.org. This is a mammoth, huge resource site that Andreas has created with others, which is very helpful in terms of studying in depth, many different subjects of life and faith and Bible and Christianity and different things, family, marriage. I know, Andreas, you’ve done a lot of work on marriage and what it means to be man and woman and things like that, so definitely head their listeners if you’re into that. Anyways, thanks again Andreas, it means a lot.
Andreas: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on. God bless.