Re: the atheist questions

Loren Haarsma (
Mon, 20 Apr 1998 11:25:27 -0400 (EDT)


There are some important differences between the way the church today is
struggling with scientific data and the way the early church (so far as
we can tell) dealt with "resurrection" data --- differences apparent
even when examined from a strictly "human" viewpoint.

Yes, there are always people who let pride and sloth prevent them from
struggling with credible data which challenges their favorite views.
But that's not true of *everybody*, either inside or outside the church.
There are also plenty of people struggling with the data, examining it,
arguing about it. In the church today we have disagreements about what
the scientific data is and what it means. And there's lots of written
records of this disagreement!

What we know of the early church, after the resurrection, looks
different. There was unanimity amongst dozens (Paul refers to hundreds)
of witnesses about the resurrection. We do not have any indications of
factions in the early church arguing, for example, that while the rest of
Jesus' teachings were true, his resurrection should be understood to be

It could be argued that disagreements about the resurrection in the
earliest days of the church were hushed up or ignored in later. But
consider (1) the writers of the New Testament books were not shy about
recording other controversies in the early church; (2) the NT records
indicate that the disciples were pretty clueless about the importance of
the death and resurrection until after they had witnessed the
resurrection; (3) the gospels also record that some of the disciples
doubted the reports of the resurrection until they witnessed it with
their own eyes. Taken together, this strongly suggests that, while
there were disagreements about *some* things in the early church, there
was agreement about the resurrection. Taken together, this strongly
suggests that belief in a dying-and-literally-resurrected Messiah didn't
"evolve" amongst the early disciples, but was forced upon them by the
observable data.

Several decades later, when the church mostly consisted of people who
had never seen Jesus, we find (in the writings of Paul, Peter, and John)
that when the apostles had to combat false teachings about life
after death and the nature of Jesus, they appealed to first-hand
witnessing of Jesus' life and resurrection -- with the firm conviction
that the witnesses of Jesus' life and death agreed on the essential

The above is, as I said, examining things from a "human" point of view.
As others have pointed out, our belief in the resurrection doesn't rely
merely on the strength of historical data.

Loren Haarsma