Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Strauss and the Credibility of Alternative Theories to the Resurrection
Over the last few weeks, Michael and I have done several radio shows on the Resurrection, in which we spoke about the credibility of the Christian belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus.
One of the themes that emerged over and over again in our discussions was this: Although the bodily resurrection of Jesus cannot be empirically "proved" as if it were subject to scientific analysis, it can be historically verified on the basis of the extant evidence. (If the word "verified" here makes you tremble, check yourself in to the doctor; you are most certainly suffering froma bad case of Empiricism.) That is to say, the Christian belief in the resurrection is the most credible position because it makes the best sense of the most historical evidence. To the extent that alternative theories fail to do justice to all the historical data, they fail as credible or satisfactory hypotheses.
Although I don't have the space to go here into a full discussion of the issue (it took N. T. Wright 700 pages or so in his Resurrection of the Son of God), I was pleased and suprised to see David Friedrich Strauss--certainly no believer in the Resurrection--admit this point his work on the Life of Jesus (German orig., 1835-36). When he comes to the question of the Resurrection, Strauss admits that the Rationalist position--which does not admit the possibility of miracles--must bear the burden of proof and be able to solve the riddle of the origin of Christianity apart from the Resurrection. To the extent that it fails to do this, the entire skeptical project fails:
Strauss states: "We stand here, therefore, at the decisive point where we, in view of the reports of the miraculous resuscitation of Jesus, either confess the inadequacy of the natural-historical view for the life of Jesus, consequently retract everything said hitherto, and give up our whole undertaking, or we must pledge ourselves to render comprehensible the content of those reports--that is, the origin of the faith in the resurrection of Jesus--without a corresponding miraculous fact." (Leben Jesu fuer das deutsche Volk, 20th ed. 1:148, cited in Hilarin Felder, Christ and the Critics, 2:297).
The question I have for you is this: which alternative theory to the bodily resurrection accomplishes this? The "Swoon Theory", in which Jesus, who was not dead--despite the spear being thrust into his side--"miraculously" revived in the cool of the cave? Or the "Stolen Body" theory, in which the same cowardly disciples who fled from Gethsemane Friday night and hid in fear on Easter Sunday somehow mustered up the courage to take on the Roman guard on Saturday night? Which naturalistic explanation is able to explain all the data without explaining away the data?
Felder gives an excellent survey of them in Christ and the Critics 2:397-432. I personally find all of them far more incredible and implausible than the Resurrection itself.
And note well: I'm not talking about mere doubts that can be raised or simple possibilities. Doubts are not arguments, and one could certainly imagine a plethora of alternative possibilities, but that is not how history works. History works with evidence. So on the basis of the evidence, is there any other alternative that makes better sense of the actual data? Can Strauss and Co. really able to provide a credible explanation for the origin of Christian faith "without a corresponding miraculous fact"?
And if not, shouldn't we follow young David's advice? (As an aside, I just learned that Strauss was only 27 when he wrote the Life of Jesus!) Shouldn't we dispense with the alternative theories and accept the hypothesis that makes the best sense of the historical evidence?