Dismantling the Pillars of Christian faith

Aractus 12, November, 2015

This post follows on from “Why I’m not a Christian any more” which I wrote a year ago. I drew a picture to demonstrate what I’m talking about, I’m very sorry it’s not very nice, I’m not a good drawer, it was difficult for me. I’m sorry it was the best I could do. The pillars of Christianity that I imagine in my head are obviously much nicer than the picture I drew. Please don’t comment on how bad it is, I know it’s terrible, I didn’t have a chance to have someone more qualified (an inexperienced child for instance) draw it for me. It probably would have looked nicer in ASCII art. It would also have made more sense if the picture was three dimensional and circular because then it’s clearer that all the pillars have an equal structural support of Christianity, you’ll have to use your imaginations because I had enough trouble drawing a two-dimensional picture.

Pillars of Christianity

I wish to describe what to Christians is my “fall from grace”. This picture illustrates what I think of when I think about the pillars of Christian faith. Other people might have different pillars – they might have less or they might have more. Pillars that other people might have are “Tradition” and “Authority of the Church”, for example. You see I started out very strongly fundamentalist – not so strong of course that I would believe 6-day creationism, but certainly strong enough for me to deny the validity of things like the discipline of psychology – or to use it selectively which is really what all Christians still do today to some extent since doing otherwise is admitting that the God of the Bible doesn’t have infallible wisdom for mental health problems. That said, I still feel quite apathetic towards psychology, and I think that’s healthy given its recent past and the great harms it has done throughout the 20th century, however it is a science and it is improving. The alternatives – such as Scientology (or for that matter Christianity) – are far, far worse. Of course over the past 12 years or so I’ve learned a great deal from psychology – such as understanding the confirmation bias and overcoming it.

We all have our own confirmation biases. Once we have a belief in something it is very difficult to alter that belief – even when presented with hard facts and rationality. So although over time the pillars you see above would weaken, and some would even crumble under the overwhelming weight of evidence – the others were still strong, and when one would weaken another would strengthen – just like in Newtonian Mechanics. So the remaining pillars were always enough to support my Christian faith. The greatest problem with fundamentalism (and evangelicalism in general) is that it is unsustainable. It didn’t take long before I wanted nothing to do with being judgemental towards others. Not simply because I didn’t like it – but because it reinforced a part of my personality that I didn’t like, and endeavoured to change. The threat of becoming a sour, bitter, judgemental person was overwhelming.

Pillar #1 Biblical Infallibility

I really hate when atheists use bad arguments. Just as much as I hated when Christians would use bad arguments. As a Christian, every-time you hear an atheist say “the bible has been translated so many times you can’t possibly know what it originally said” or “somebody made it up” or “the text has been altered significantly” it would just reinforce the conviction in ‘infallibility’. The fact is the Bible hasn’t changed significantly, at least since 200 BC for the OT and 100-200 AD for the NT. But that doesn’t make it infallible. Without infallibility the Bible has no moral authority, and it has no wisdom or knowledge to share with believers. It is based on the belief that all authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit in their writings. It is bound to the view of biblical-inerrancy, the belief that all teachings are without error.

Dispensational Theology and internal Biblical Contradictions disproved this pillar for me. Dispensationalism never sat well with me to be honest, and when I re-read the Pentateuch it was forever disproved. In Genesis 12 God promises Abram his descendants shall possess the land of Canaan forever, it’s an unconditional promise made by God that according to the Bible itself God breaks. In Mark Jesus casts out a Legion of daemons in the city of Gerasa. But in Matthew the city is Gadara. They are two completely different locations, so both cannot be true at the same time.

Map showing Gerasa and Gadara

This is an internal contradiction – not a contradiction with external evidence. Neither city is close enough to the Sea of Galilee for the story of the pigs drowning in the sea to make comprehensible sense. Hippus however is right on the sea, so it has been suggested that Matthew actually refers to Hippus rather than Gadara itself, primarily because the gospels specify the “region” instead of specifying in the city, and that Gadara may have had rule over Hippus. Although that solves Matthew’s problem, Mark clearly says in no uncertain terms that the location is Gerasa, and even raking into account the possible “region” it may hold sway over, it is nowhere near the Sea. Clear evidence that he was not led by the Holy Spirit his writing. To make matters even worse, Luke agrees with Mark’s version, not Matthew’s! So it can’t possibly be an early scribal error since Luke makes the same error.

Their geographical ignorance is consistent with non-Jew Christians writing the gospels of Mark and Luke outside of ancient Palestine with a lack of knowledge about the location of Israeli cities. Matthew is a more Jewish gospel, and his changing the location to make the miracle possible is consistent with a Jewish-Christian who has knowledge of the landscape of ancient Palestine. Gerasa is 50km away from the Sea – that’s longer than a marathon. To say it would have taken the pigs 3 hours to “stampede” their way into the sea is an understatement.

There are even more problems though for the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Bible. The doctrine states that the Holy Spirit, or perhaps Jehovah, guided the authors of the Bible’s 66 (or 73) various books. But this becomes impossible when we discover, for example, that the synoptic gospels are all copies of other texts – plagiarised wholesale; and that would mean the previous texts that were written and copied into Matthew/Luke and perhaps Mark were the truly inspired works. Moving our way though the Bible we discover several pseudonymous works: that is works where the author has lied about his identity. This includes a number of pseudo-Pauline epistles and 1 and 2 Peter. This is a huge problem for Christians because from the second century to the fourth, pseudonymous works were weeded out and discarded by early Christianity as being false teachings and fraudulent. Yet we now know they did not identify all the fraudulent works. In four out of the seven authentic epistles of Paul, he writes one part himself (and says so). Presumably so that the recipients of his epistles will recognise his hand writing. There’s not much other reason to disrupt the flow of the nicely written neat and tidy letter with “big” and uneven writing.

An infallible Bible does not contain these problems, thus infallibility is disproved conclusively.

Pillar #2 Moral Authority

Heathens without god are depicted as morally corrupt. Even today we associate the word “Sodomite” with “anal penetration” even though in Genesis there is no direction to the ancient Hebrews not to partake in whatever sexual pleasures they please. There’s no law against homosexuality, that doesn’t happen until Leviticus – many centuries later. God instructed the ancient Hebrews to enslave people. God treated women as inferior. God instructed his people to practise the death penalty. These are examples of things that most of us understand to be immoral – by that God has lost his moral authority.

As far as “sexual immorality” goes, I previously pointed out that God’s definition of “adultery” just means married women who sleep with people other than their husband, and that men were allowed to sleep with their wives, their sex slaves, prostitutes, and unmarried women without being guilty of adultery. I have never met a Christian that wants to accept the Old Testament definition of adultery. Christians claim that Jesus came to “fulfil” the OT and bring a New Testament, but he himself affirms the OT definition of adultery. Yahweh’s rampant misogyny shows that he is not a moral authority. Allowing the Hebrew people to own sex slaves is an example of this misogyny – but in this age sex slavery is considered one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

There is simply no moral teachings in the Old Testament that are not directly reflective of the primitive wisdom of the age. And even then there are examples of other nations such as Egypt with a more advanced sense of morality – including greater equality for women, greater rights for non-citizens, and treating all slaves equally.

Pillar #3 Historicity

Christians will often point out that the facts that Jesus was born, lived, got baptised, preached, and died are all sure and certain facts of history. And they are – but they would still all be true if all we knew was that Jesus got baptised and began preaching. You see the circumstances of his birth are certainly not certain – he had to have been born, otherwise he couldn’t have preached – but to suggest he was born of a “virgin” during a census that either didn’t exist or happened in 6AD is stretching belief to say the least. Mark, the earliest of the canonical gospels, does not include the nativity. He also does not include the resurrection. James, Jude, and Paul also never talk about a physical resurrection. Paul does talk about visions of Jesus and that Jesus was ‘raised’, and Mark says that he was ‘raised’. But ‘raised’ does not mean ‘resurrected’. ‘Raised’ simply means taken up to the heavenly realm by Jehovah. There are eight people taken up by Jehovah in the Old Testament: Enoch, Eliezer, King Hiram, Ebed-Melech, Jaabez, Bithiah, Serach, and Elijah. They are all ‘raised’ without experiencing death. Jesus taught though that people get raised to heaven after death.

What Christians don’t tell you, and often are entirely ignorant on, is that the resurrection of Jesus is anything but historical-fact, and so are the Patriarchs, and the Conquest of Canaan. The death of Jesus by Roman Crucifixion and even the discovery of the empty tomb by the disciples are reasonably well attested to. However, there are plenty of explanations for the disciples discovering an empty tomb – perhaps they went to the wrong tomb? Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea had it moved for some reason that evening before the morning? Perhaps the family of Jesus moved it in the evening and didn’t want the disciples to know where it was.

As for the Patriarchs, the enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus, the crossing of Sinai, and the great conquest of Canaan, sadly none of it is real. The Bible describes a kind of slavery in Egypt that Egypt simply didn’t practise. It describes it precisely how you might expect a rival nation to be describing it for the purpose of propaganda. You have to remember that these people were so primitive that they thought the city 15 kilometres away from them held people of a different “race” (and there are examples of this in the Bible). But even had they practised the kind of slavery suggested by the Pentateuch, there is simply no evidence outside of the Bible that there was ever an enslaved nation in Egypt, or for the rest of the Biblical tale. Furthermore, modern archaeology has disproved conclusively the conquest of Canaan, and shown that Israel as we knew it at the time of Jesus rose in a very different way.

Pillar #4 Just and Righteous God

Vengeful God

As discussed earlier, the lack of moral authority of the Hebrew scriptures teachings alone should be enough to demonstrate that the Hebrew god is neither just nor righteous. But there are even more problems with Jehovah’s righteousness.

Even by the Bible’s own account, Jehovah deceives and lies to his followers. For example he tells Abram he shall give to his descendants the whole of the Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, only to later decide to let Rome occupy and control the territory anyway. It is made explicit in Jeremiah 34 that God hands his people into plague famine and invasion for not obeying the Mosaic Law – he does that despite the fact the covenant he originally made with Abram was unconditional and didn’t require obedience, and the Mosaic covenant had not yet been made. Read for yourself:

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, “Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you for six years, you must let them go free.” Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned round and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.

‘Therefore this is what the Lord says: you have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim “freedom” for you, declares the Lord – “freedom” to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.

-Jeremiah 34:12-20

In fact God routinely lies to people, or has his prophets lie to people, all throughout the Old Testament. In fact he even lies to Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in fact the Serpent tells Adam the truth (that his eyes will be opened and he will know good and evil). He also manipulates people in order to control the outcome. When God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and ask him to set the Hebrews free, he hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to make him refuse. He does this ten times and each time he then sends a hideous plague upon Egypt as punishment for Pharaoh not recognising his authority. But this is a dictatorship – why is Jehovah punishing the ordinary citizens and residents of the land who have no authority to influence their government? How can a manipulative liar like Jehovah be “just and righteous”?

Pillar #5 Covenant with God

In its purest form this is just a ruse for convincing people to comply with the ruling religious authorities. The Pentateuch represents the earliest known text upon which a religion was based. There is no other ancient religion in the world that we know of prior to Judaism that was based on a written collection of texts. There are plenty of other religions, and many had writings about them, but they weren’t based on them. Now granted, most people will tend to say that the Tanakh (more commonly known as the Hebrew Bible) is in fact the oldest known authoritative religious text upon which a religion was based, however the Pentateuch represents the core of the religious teachings and the earliest of the Tanakh scrolls to have been penned. More books were added over a number of centuries until we have the complete Hebrew scriptures as they exist today.

The Covenant that Christians accept and believe in is that God sent Jesus to redeem them from their Flesh through either faith, and/or grace, and/or works. The New Testament uses the term ‘Flesh’ to mean ‘Sinful Nature’, it’s a theme that runs through all Paul’s epistles. Many Christians are in fact unaware of this and even deny it due to reading translations such as the NIV which have scrubbed the whole of the NT of that word and replaced all instances with either “sinful nature” or “worldly”. All Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of this covenant to redeem them from their Flesh. There is disagreement about exactly what it means whether it is by “faith alone” and whether Jesus is deity or a prophet. The majority of Christians today view Jesus as divine deity, part of the holy trinity, but this was not a first century belief shared by everyone in the early church, although some must have had the idea since it’s a concept that the writers of John and Revelation had. They didn’t really say it explicitly though, and that could indicate that the authors didn’t want their works to appear to be “Gnostic nonsense” – that is containing “false” Christian doctrine.

Dispensational theology, previously mentioned under Pillar #1, poses a significant problem for Christians. Essentially most Christians believe that Jehovah has a progressive revelation, displacing previous revelation and covenants. Even nondispensationalists believe in some sort of progressive revelation, although their explanation will be different. In any case, dispensational theology provides the justification for discontinuity of the Law of Moses and some older covenants such as the Abrahamic covenants. Now here’s where the complexity comes in. The reason why Christians need a way to discontinue the Law and covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David. This is because in 50 AD the Church in Jerusalem held a council to address the fact that the old land promises made by Jehovah to Abraham, Moses, and David did not have any relevance to gentile Christians from Syria and other places outside of first century Palestine (/Canaan).

This theology poses irreconcilable problems though. The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, it is where God promises to Abram that his descendants shall possess the land of Canaan forever, and yet even by the Biblical record it has never been fulfilled by God. Some people say “this is a covenant that will be fulfilled in the future”, but this was made to Abram as an Israelite – what relevance does it have to the modern world with a population of 7 billion, and hundreds if not thousands of distinct Ethnicities? 7 billion people cannot all live in the “promised” land of Canaan (the land previously belonging to Palestinians and currently illegally occupied by Israel).

So the simple fact is the Covenants God makes make no sense, they are not universally applicable (even the New Covenant isn’t which I’ll discuss in the next section), God hasn’t kept any of his Covenants other than the Adamic covenant in which he asserted his authority to be the judge of all mankind, and explaining away these problems requires convoluted reasoning and a very liberal interpretation of what the Tanakh teaches.

Pillar #6 Redemption in Jesus

Jesus welcoming you

The redemption in Jesus relies on the Christian interpretation of the New Covenant, so let’s discuss it. There are some things we can say about, but firstly let me tell you what it is not. It is not a covenant between God and the World, it doesn’t require repentance from sins, nor does it require people to choose to believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Moses, Abraham, or anyone else.

So what is it then, and how did Christians get it so wrong? It is a covenant made between God and Israel, pertaining to the restoration of Israel. And there’s actually a very strong biblical bases for discontinuing the Mosaic covenant, and for the provision of a New covenant:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

-Jeremiah 31:31-32

But this is not where the passage ends. Read on and it explains in explicit detail what the New covenant will be:

‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,’ declares the LORD.
‘I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour,
or say to one another, “Know the LORD,”
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,’
declares the LORD.
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.’

-Jeremiah 31:33-34

The “New Covenant” has five properties. Firstly and, perhaps most importantly, it is an unconditional covenant – it does not require repentance from people or anything else. Secondly it is between God and the people of Israel and Judah – not between God and gentiles. Thirdly, God’s law will be placed directly into people’s heart so that they do not need to be taught them. Fourthly the knowledge of God will also be given directly from God so no one needs to teach about who God is. Fifthly, God will forgive all and forget about the sins of the people he will make the covenant with. This is confirmed further in Jer 32. It discusses the regeneration of Israel, not the generation of a new movement separate to Israel.

So the Christian covenant that they call the ‘New Covenant’ is in fact not at all what was promised the Jews. With the Christian New Covenant forgiveness has to be earned in some way – typically by accepting Jesus as your saviour and repenting of your “sins”. This is the core theological belief from which all other theology regarding Christianity is built on, so in a sense this one Pillar is absolutely fundamental to Christianity in any form, no matter the denomination, and without it the validity (however limited) of Christianity cannot stand.

That whole passage (Jeremiah 31:31-34) is quoted wholesale in Hebrews 8:8-12, so Christians can’t claim that it’s not relevant. Instead they make the claim that “it simply hasn’t been fulfilled yet”. But how can it ever be fulfilled? The ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel were completely destroyed – there’s no one for God to make the covenant with any more. Furthermore, the Old Testament gives guidance on how to spot false prophets in the book of Deuteronomy, and in Jeremiah itself as well:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

-Deuteronomy 18:22

But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.’

-Jeremiah 28:9

Right, well then prophet is false, but at the same time is ratified by the New Testament. Interesting. The punishment for false prophecy, as well as for sorcery, is death, given in many places including Deuteronomy 18:20 in exactly the same passage quoted above! So how exactly do we put false prophets to death if we’re willing to wait more than 2,000 years to see if the prophecy comes to pass? The “redemption in Jesus” is a different “New Covenant” to the one prophesied in Jeremiah 31. When Theologians and Priests discuss or preach about the justification for Christians to ignore the Law, they never look at Jeremiah 31/Hebrews 8, even though it specifically says it will displace the Mosaic covenant and gives justification to remove it.

Redemption in Jesus is simply another false promise. It doesn’t mean Jesus was a bad person, but like all prophets he was a false prophet.

Pillar #7 Power of Prayer

The Bible makes it explicit that Prayer has great power. Such as having authority over all disease and physical impairments such as blindness or paralysis, as well as being able to cast out wicked daemons that plague humanity and cause all kinds of unthinkable suffering. But it just doesn’t work. For one, no amputee has ever been healed by prayer. No paralytics have been healed by prayer in modern times either, nor have people who were born blind or deaf. So what’s going on here? Well there are three possibilities – 1. God exists, but like usual isn’t keeping his covenants or promises; 2. God exists, but displaced that healing covenant with some other covenant; 3. God does not exist. None of them show a just and righteous God who keeps to his word. Since this is a long entry I’ll leave it there for now on this pillar.

Pillar #8 Wisdom and Knowledge

The Bible, including the New Testament, doesn’t contain any knowledge or “wisdom” that is any greater than the conventional wisdom of the age. As per the moral authority, there’s nothing in the Bible that shows a grand morality not found elsewhere, nor is any specific knowledge ever revealed that the Israelites or first century Christians couldn’t have worked out for themselves. And what used to be taught as “knowledge” such as creation of the world, is now largely viewed as a “symbolic story” by the majority of Christians. Jesus has some wise teachings, such as recognising greed as a root of evil when he encounters the rich young ruler, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the good Samaritan are all great teachings.

But look at where he fails: he discusses divorce legalistically. Yes he has a point that men shouldn’t divorce their wives just because they decide they want to get rid of them, and that’s valid, but he goes on to say the only justification for divorce is “sexual immorality” (without explaining what he means by that) and that any other reason isn’t valid. He never once challenges the status of women as property in the Tanakh, including being listed among a “man’s possessions” in the tenth commandment. Nor does he say why it is that Judaism forbids women from divorcing their husbands (something legal in Ancient Egypt and other places). He also has nothing to say about domestic violence/abuse; something he should have had insight about if he was truly wise. Why is it that according to Jesus domestic violence isn’t a valid reason for divorce?

Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan – one of his best. It talks about showing kindness to other people; well if he was really wise how come he didn’t have insight enough to say that “race” is a false-concept, and that the ancient Hebrew laws that specifically treat non-Hebrews differently were wrong? Why doesn’t he say something about why women weren’t allowed to inherit property under the Law?

See the points Jesus makes are generally good, but they’re all within the Law of Moses. What he does is he says “actually this is lawful, and the Pharisees, Scribes, and other religious leaders have twisted the meaning”. But he doesn’t say “women aren’t property” or that “all people belong to the same human race” or anything that show true wisdom beyond the conventional wisdom for first century Palestine.

5 comments on “Dismantling the Pillars of Christian faith”

  • Randy says:

    If the disciples went to the wrong tomb, all that the Jewish authorities had to do in order to crush the early church, was to open up the RIGHT tomb, pull out the body, and parade it through the streets.

    If Joseph of Arimathea had the body moved the night before, then he either acted alone or this was one of the most successful conspiracies in history. Yet, even this does not account for the conversions of Saul or James both of whom were already skeptics and unlikely to be convinced by the apostles whom they were predisposed to distrust. The Jewish authorities accused the disciples of stealing the body, so skeptics had reason enough to discount any claims of resurrection.

    Why did Paul and James both convert and become leaders in the early church?

  • Aractus says:

    Hi Randy, I assume you mean James the Just? There are two other Jameses in the New Testament, one is an obscure disciple (one of the 12) that no one knows anything about, and the other is the brother of John the Baptist.

    The gospels provides very little reliable information on the family of Jesus – we know the names of his parents and his brothers, and that’s about all it tells us.

    The Bible never says that James was a sceptic or that he converted after his brother’s martyrdom. So my answer is I have no idea why, when, or how James was converted. But given his prominence in the early church if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it was either while Jesus was alive or shortly thereafter.

    Paul said he received a divine revelation about Jesus from God, see Galatians 1:11-24. This is the only time in any of his letters that he mentions his conversion, and Galatians is one of the first of his epistles (if not the first) to have been written. Acts 9 gives a quite different account, but it’s written either by someone with second hand information (Luke) or third hand information (an associate of Luke), and in either case that makes it hearsay and much less reliable than what Paul himself has to say about his conversion experience.

    As for your comment that the body of Jesus couldn’t have been moved from a tomb that was not designed as a permanent resting place by those who had possession of the body: why not? Why would the Jewish authorities care – as far as I’m concerned there was no belief that Jesus was walking around talking to people until the late 50’s AD at the earliest (almost 30 years later). We don’t see any evidence of such a belief in Mark/Paul/the pastorals/Jude/James/Hebrews, and we only see it in Matthew/Luke/John.

    • Randy Carson says:


      You wrote, “as far as I’m concerned there was no belief that Jesus was walking around talking to people until the late 50′s AD at the earliest (almost 30 years later). We don’t see any evidence of such a belief in Mark/Paul/the pastorals/Jude/James/Hebrews, and we only see it in Matthew/Luke/John.”

      Let’s take a closer look at what the facts really are.

      Writing from Ephesus around the year AD 55 or 56, Paul addresses the Corinthians as follows:

      1 Corinthians 15:1-8
      Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

      3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,3-8 and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

      Note first that Paul wants to “remind” the Corinthians of things he had already told them. Well, if he is writing his first letter to them in AD 55 or 56, then he must have first told them these things when he visited them in person back in AD 51-52. This date for Paul’s visit to Corinth is established by the archaeological discovery of an inscription in stone bearing the name of Gallio, Proconsul of the Province of Achaia in Greece. Greek proconsuls served one-year terms; therefore, the date of Paul’s appearance before Gallio is beyond dispute.

      This means that Paul had first taught the Corinthians all of the information found in 1 Co 15:3-8 as early as AD 51. And what facts did Paul teach?

      1. Jesus died for our sins in accordance with prophecy found in scripture;
      2. Jesus was buried;
      3. Jesus was raised on the third day as foretold in scripture;
      4. Jesus appeared to individuals and groups of disciples including one group of more than 500 people;
      5. Jesus appeared to Paul personally.

      This passage clearly illustrates that Paul was preaching the bodily resurrection of Jesus within 20 years of Jesus’ crucifixion.

      But wait…note further that Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…” (v.3). Paul tells us that the information he passed on to the Corinthians during his visit there in AD 51 was first received by him from others? Who taught Paul these things? And when? The first clues to this puzzle is found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (ca. AD 55) where he wrote:

      Galatians 1:13-20
      13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

      18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

      From this we learn that after Paul’s conversion, he went immediately into Arabia and stayed there for three years. When did Paul become a Christian? According to Acts 9, Paul saw the Lord on the road to Damascus sometime after the stoning of Stephen (ca. AD 31-32). Putting these pieces together, we can conservatively estimate that:

      1. Jesus was crucified around AD 30
      2. Stephen was stoned around AD 31-32
      3. Paul was converted around AD 32-33
      4. Paul was in Arabia for three years and returned to Jerusalem around AD 35-36 when he spent 15 days with Peter and James.

      Paul continued the narrative of his travels in Galatians:

      Galatians 2:1-2, 8-9
      Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

      8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas [Simon Peter] and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.

      From these two passages, we learn that Paul met privately with Peter, James and John in Jerusalem in order to verify that he was accurately preaching the same message that the apostles in Jerusalem were preaching. Note that Paul stressed the doctrinal unity of the Early Church 1 Corinthians 15:11 when he wrote, “Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”

      “This is what we preach.” Paul made sure that the message he preached was one and the same as that of the original apostles who were companions of Jesus, and Paul’s own words debunk the false idea that Paul somehow taught a different form of Christianity than that taught in Jerusalem.

      And when did this occur? As we saw previously, Paul made one trip to Jerusalem around AD 35-36 when he met with Peter and James the first time, and he made a second journey fourteen years later around AD 49-50.

      Would it be reasonable to think that Paul discussed not only the details of Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion and resurrection but also his own conversion experience with Peter, James and John? Would this conversation have occurred for the first time on Paul’s second visit nearly twenty years after his conversion? Or is it more reasonable to think that Paul was eager to learn all that he could about Jesus during his 15-day visit to Jerusalem in AD 35? If the latter seems more likely, then this means that the proto-creed found in 1 Corinthians 15, which includes a clear proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus, would have been handed on to Paul from the original apostles within five years of Jesus’ resurrection.

      With all due respect to those advocates of the “Telephone Game” theory such as Bart Ehrman or to those who believe that the resurrection of Jesus is the result of mythology which developed over time…five years is inadequate for the type of distortion that is alleged.

      The authors of the New Testament are clear that many eye-witnesses of the events that occurred on Easter morning were still alive and available for consultation. Anyone doubting the truth of the gospel message only had to ask those who were present and saw the risen Lord Jesus with their own eyes.

  • Aractus says:

    In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul is reciting an early Christian creed, and this is the view of the majority of scholars. Paul never once says that Jesus appeared to him outside of this creed, which means we must consider that he probable means appears in a less literal sense of the word.

    As you pointed out, Paul knew the family of Jesus and at least some of his disciples. Therefore we would expect that had they believed in a resurrection that Paul would have mentioned this in his letters, but he does not.

  • Randy Carson says:

    We need to imagine how Paul and Peter spent their time when they spent 15 days together in Jerusalem. We have already noted that Paul went there “to investigate”. Did they not retrace Christ’s final journey? Did they not pause for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane or stand where the cross had stood? Did Peter not show him the tomb where he and John had discovered the grave clothes? This, of course, is speculation. But Paul wanted to clarify the facts – and 15 days in a small city is a long time. There are therefore very good reasons to believe that Paul was fully aware that the tomb was empty.

    Learning from Thomas

    The resurrection event did not happen in a vacuum. The gospels reveal Christ to have taught the highest ethic the world has ever heard, to have lived a life of stunning integrity, courage and compassion, to have performed astonishing deeds, to have consistently spoken with the authority of God, and to have been executed for blasphemy.

    An incident in John’s account is instructive. Thomas had been told that this Christ had risen, by people he knew well and might reasonably have trusted, namely the other apostles. He had every reason to take them seriously, yet his doubts overwhelmed him. John reports that Christ later appeared to Thomas, eliciting his famous response “My Lord and my God.” Christ’s reply to him, however, is salutary. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29).

    In other words, all over the world, throughout the centuries, people would be invited to trust the risen Christ on the basis of the apostles’ clear and compelling testimony. That should have been enough for Thomas – and it should also be enough for us.

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