Ep 1 | Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?



Today we invite you to hear a debate between one of the world’s foremost philosophical atheists, Dr. Antony Flew, former professor at Oxford University, and Christian philosopher and historian Dr. Gary Habermas, current chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Liberty University, on the topic “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?”

Dr. Antony Flew: For a person like myself confronted with an apparent miracle, the rational thing is to think that there must be some mistake here. Though I could be persuaded that a miracle occurred, it would need something really very spectacular.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Probably the single most important fact is that the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus.
Dr. John Ankerberg: “The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.” Well, obviously, you’re taking that in a naturalistic way. So give me your theory, how did that happen? I mean, something happened, is what everybody is saying.
Flew: I take it these were grief-related visions and there was nothing there that anybody else could have seen.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Gary?
Habermas: I think Tony is getting himself in a lot of hot water. Number one, he’s got an empty tomb with no cause ventured for the tomb. Secondly, he’s got hallucinations for the disciples that don’t work for the half dozen reasons I gave earlier: groups don’t see hallucinations; they weren’t in the right frame of mind. You have different times, places, people, gender, doing different things. The empty tomb, it doesn’t transform lives. James, Paul. All reasons.

Christianity stands or falls on Christ’s resurrection. If Christ has risen from the dead, then Christianity is true. If He did not, then Christianity is false. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is groundless, your preaching is useless, and you are still in your sins.” We invite you to join us for this important debate on The John Ankerberg Show.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you’ve joined us. My guests are two world-class philosophers and they’re going to debate the crucial question, Did Jesus rise from the dead? In this first segment, I’d like to tell you just a little bit more about these fellows so you know who they are. My first guest is Dr. Antony Flew, probably the world’s most famous philosophical atheist. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Reading in England. He has also held permanent professorships in philosophy at the University of Keele, King’s College, University of Aberdeen; Christ Church at Oxford University, and has been a visiting professor at 12 universities around the world. He holds the M.A. degree from St. John’s College, University of Oxford, and a Doctor of Literature from the University of Keele. He has authored more than 23 books, edited 12 others, written more than 72 articles in prestigious journals. Those are just the ones that I could count. If you look in your Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the article on miracles was written by Dr. Flew because he is probably or arguably the Hume scholar in the world right now.
My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas. He is chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at the Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Gary received the Doctor of Divinity from Emmanuel College, Oxford, England; and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He has authored 21 books, published over 110 articles in prestigious journals. And gentlemen, I’m glad that you are here. We’re going to have a great conversation together.
Dr. Habermas, I think the people that are watching right now, we’re talking about did Jesus rise from the dead, and they’re saying, “Come on! I mean, you’re saying there’s evidence, there’s facts in history?” When you see magazines like Newsweek and Time that come out every six or eight months it seems, here’s another one on “Visions of Jesus”; you’ve got all kinds of stuff in these magazines, but they keep on saying, “There’s very little evidence.” Now, you come along and you write this little book called The Historical Jesus, and you talk about the fact that when you were at Michigan State working on your Ph.D., you were a skeptic yourself. And the fact is, the facts brought you to a belief in Jesus. And you have said there are at least 12 historical facts that are virtually agreed by all critical scholars today. I’d like you to let us know what the case is. Start us off tonight.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, John, just to name some of those highlights. Virtually everybody today thinks that Jesus died due to crucifixion. I mean, John Crossan and others from the Jesus Seminar say it’s the most widely known fact in the ancient world. He was buried. Of course, this event inspired some despair in the disciples. Now, the fact that the tomb was empty is admitted by most scholars but not as widely admitted as the rest in this list. Probably the single most important fact is that the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus. They were transformed as a result. The resurrection was their central message. They preached in Jerusalem. The Church was born. We have some individuals like James and Paul, two former skeptics – one a family skeptic, one an outsider who persecuted Christians – and they also came to Christ by experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus.
By the way, there are a lot of other scholars today on the historical Jesus movement way far to the left of me who also start with lists of facts just like this as sort of a common ground from which we can deal with our data.
Ankerberg: Now, Tony, what do you think about Habermas’ facts there?
Dr. Antony Flew: Well, I don’t dispute those facts but I want to say, yes, but the evidential situation is in many ways very unsatisfactory. For a start, no one knows in what year the crucial event of the crucifixion and consequently the other events occurred. And this is a very remarkable thing that no one knows the birth date… well, there are a great many birth dates of important people that are not known. The other lack is, all our evidence is based on documents written by believing Christians, none of whom was himself an eyewitness, and we have absolutely nothing from the rest of the population of Jerusalem to tell us why it was they weren’t converted and whether the earthquakes and other alleged miracles actually occurred or not.
Ankerberg: What do you think about that, Gary?
Habermas: Well, now, when you say none of these early Christian authors were eyewitnesses, of course I think from your writings you exempt Paul, right?
Flew: Oh, gosh, yes. I was thinking of the Gospel writers.
Habermas: Right. But with Paul we have an authentic eyewitness.
Flew: Absolutely.
Habermas: You would grant the number of authentic Pauline books.
Flew: Oh, yes. But he wasn’t in Jerusalem, of course, at that time.
Habermas: Well, shortly afterwards, of course, he was there when Stephen was stoned. But also I would disagree about the extra-biblical data. I think we do have extra-biblical data for most everything. I will say that everything on that factual list that I gave, everything except probably the despair of the disciples, which is a good psychological fact, but all the rest of them can be established through Paul alone. But I think the majority of them can be witnessed to in ancient extra biblical literature.
Ankerberg: Alright, give us an example. Give us some of the data.
Habermas: Well, 1 Corinthians 15, I think, without any question is the central piece of evidence. And that’s from the far right to the far left. I mean, I remember being reviewed by a pretty radical scholar, I think to the left of Tony, who said, “Habermas doesn’t have any good evidence for the resurrection except 1 Corinthians 15.” And I think you can’t say that and disavow the resurrection, because 1 Corinthians 15 is incredible data, written by Paul, very early, 55 to 57 AD. But more importantly, in verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that he received material that he passed on to others. And that data there… those words, by the way, “delivered and received” are technical words for “passing on tradition.” And when you piece this together, it is most likely that Paul received that material in Jerusalem from Peter and James. Now that, according to Paul’s own account in Galatians 1:18 where the word he uses shows that he played the part of the investigative reporter, and the immediate context before and after is the nature of the Gospel. So I think that we have Paul being converted 1-1½ years after the cross; that’s the date critics use. Three years later he goes to Jerusalem. So we’re talking 35ish AD. If we use a nice round year 30 for the cross, in 35 AD, five years later he gets this material from Peter and James. So as ancient history goes, this is a very, very early move.
Ankerberg: And what was the key thing that Peter gave to Paul that he recorded?
Habermas: Well, it seems that from Peter and James Paul got this list of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. And by the way, besides Paul, Peter and James are the only two eyewitnesses named by name in Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 15, so there’s a fairly tight network. And when you look at ancient history, I think of the German critical historian, Hans Von Campenhausen, who says in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff we have material that meets all the standards of historicity that could possibly be applied to an ancient text. And he’s fairly far over on the left. So, I mean, I’m sure Tony doesn’t believe what Paul is saying, but I’m saying that we have this from a very early time and I think that’s very, very important.
Ankerberg: Tony, what do you think about this being eyewitness stuff then from Paul?
Flew: Oh, I have not the slightest doubt that he is reporting something that happened to him with certain companions. But what he was reporting was that he was in contact… or he thought he was seeing the resurrected Christ and so on. But his companions didn’t see anything at all, did they? There’s a doubt as to whether they heard a voice.
Habermas: First of all, I’m saying the companions with Paul, this idea that they didn’t see the same thing he saw, that’s only in the Book of Acts; we don’t get that from Paul. So, I’m saying if you’re going to admit Acts there that gives me a wealth of other material to use in the Book of Acts, too. But my other point, I would disagree with you. I think Paul thinks Jesus appeared to him physically and I’d love to show that to you from Paul’s own writings if you want to.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’re going to take a break and we’re going to come back. We’re debating the topic, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” and we’re talking about the apostle Paul, the information he got from James and Peter and what kind of a resurrection took place. Was it a spiritual one? Was it a physical one? Was it a hallucination one? Was it something else? We’ll talk about it more when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking with two wonderful guests: Dr. Antony Flew, considered by many to be the world’s foremost philosophical atheist, and Dr. Gary Habermas, a renowned Christian philosopher and historian, considered by many to be the foremost expert on the evidence for the Jesus resurrection.
Now, why is it important to have this core of 12 facts that virtually all critical scholars, this is not evangelicals here, we’re talking virtually all critical scholars out there. Let’s drive this in. First of all, why do they accept this data?
Habermas: Well, I think they accept it because it comes on good grounds. Today Paul is widely accepted, as Tony has said. Virtually everything on the list can be established by Paul alone. And everybody thinks something can be gathered from the Gospels and Acts here and there. So I think it comes on good evidence. Now, why these twelve? This is just something I came up with in The Historical Jesus. Others might have a list that’s longer, shorter.
Ankerberg: And if people question these, Gary, from what I understand in your book, is all of these 12, there’s a ton of evidence that supports all of these from history. And we can get into that as well.
Habermas: We can look at any one of them.
Ankerberg: Now, Tony, you would agree that these 12 facts are accepted by the scholars.
Flew: Yes.
Ankerberg: Alright, now, the question is, we’ve got these facts, now what conclusion do we draw from them? Tony, what do you draw from this?
Flew: From this alone, leaving out Paul, nothing of any great interest, no.
Ankerberg: So the fact is, one of those, if I remember correctly: “The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.” Well, obviously, you’re taking that in a naturalistic way. So give me your theory, how did that happen? I mean, something happened, is what everybody is saying.
Flew: Oh, yes. My best suggestion is that these were grief-related visions. Apparently, these are fairly common. People who’ve lost a husband, wife, or close relative and feeling distressed about it suddenly have the feeling or seem to see the familiar person around the house and so on. I take it these were grief-related visions and there was nothing there that anybody else could have seen.
Ankerberg: You just wrote a review for Jack Kent’s book on The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, right? And that’s, I think, either out or coming out in Free Inquiry magazine and a couple of others.
Flew: Yes.
Ankerberg: In essence, he was saying that there are two reasons that he attributes for the experiences that these disciples had: grief hallucination for the disciples and conversion psychosis for Paul. Do you want to go with that?
Flew: Well, I don’t know about conversion psychosis, but clearly it was the sort of thing that William James in Varieties of Religious Experience would be writing about. What happens in the cases of these rather spectacular religious conversions? Most people’s conversions to or from a religion are much more slow moving and so on. But there are a lot of these cases, many of which are found in that great work of William James.
Ankerberg: Now, let me clarify why this is so important. Fifteen years ago you two fellows had a wonderful debate. Now, most of us missed it. I got to read that in the book and so on, but it was a tremendous debate. But Jack Kent, the fellow that you are writing the review for, said that, “All dozen of the facts that were presented by Habermas are great facts. The problem is, Flew did not have a theory to explain those facts and he lost the debate.” Now, is this the theory that you want to go with?
Flew: Yes. This is what I think I’ve learned in the last 15 years. I hope I’ve learned some other things besides that, but this is the relevant one.
Ankerberg: Alright. Now, Gary, the fact is, “hallucination” has been around for a long time but this is a kind of specific area of hallucination. We’ve got this grief hallucination for the disciples. Kind of explain what that is. And conversion psychosis for the apostle Paul. Does that float?
Habermas: I think it doesn’t come close. Let me take them in reverse order. Let me go with Paul. In this book Jack Kent tells you that Paul has a conversion disorder, he calls it. What he does not tell you, I mean, it’s a real convenient category because most people don’t know anything about conversion disorder, he cites the DSM3 [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], which is the standard diagnostic tool for psychiatry.
If Paul has conversion disorder on the way to Damascus, we’re going to have multiple problems. He doesn’t tell you this. Number one, there’s nothing in the diagnostic literature about hallucination. It is simply a very violent and fast change of mind. It’s short-lived, and it goes away. So, conversion disorder will not do it. Even for a critic. You have to have conversion disorder, and this is even from Kent’s book, plus you have to have an auditory hallucination (of hearing); you have to have a visual hallucination (of sight); and lastly, Paul has to be caught by a great psychosis, which is often called the Messiah Complex, because then Paul goes out and says, “God spoke to me and He told me to tell you.” So, four things have to happen simultaneously: a conversion disorder, two different kinds of hallucination, and a Messiah Complex had to hit him at one time and then basically drift away and we never see this again.
And let me also tell you that in a standard reference work by Kaplan and two other psychiatrists, conversion disorder – watch the facts here and see if this sounds like Paul to you – up to five to one it happens to women. It happens mostly to adolescents. It happens mostly to people of low economic status. It happens to people with a low I.Q. and to military persons in battle. That’s the five most common circumstances. Not a single one applies to Paul.
So, when you say you’ve got these five problems, but plus he needs the disorder, two hallucinations, messiah complex – and let’s just add here, there’s not a speck of evidence in Paul that he ever wanted to convert from Judaism to Christianity – I think you’ve got a horrible problem.
Ankerberg: Roll on to grief hallucination. What about that one?
Habermas: Well, okay, grief hallucinations, according to Jack Kent, apply to the disciples and James. And by the way, he would like you to think that this is in the literature. There’s no such thing as grief hallucination in the DSM4. Nothing.
Now, Tony is right. People do see hallucinations, but what’s the M.O.? A person who sees a grief hallucination is alone. Usually, let’s picture an elderly lady who’s lost her husband. She’s alone in her room at night and as a lady I remember from a church I pastored, she used to say, “Where’s Daddy? Where’s Daddy?” And she walked around the house and that’s all she said. She’s a candidate, perhaps, for a grief hallucination.
But you’ve got problems with groups of people seeing Jesus. Right there in 1 Corinthians 15 you’ve got three groups of people. You’ve got the fact that they had despair. Hallucinations don’t come out of despair. A hallucination is when you believe something so strongly you make the image. Even with Paul alone, you’ve got too many different people, persons, places. You’ve got women, men; indoors, outdoors; walking, sitting, standing. We could go on. You’ve got an empty tomb.
By the way, I’ve got a friend who has done some research on hallucination. They do not cause,… as a general rule, they do not cause any kind of transformation. People who have these get talked out of them. Somebody says, “Now, come on! You’re not seeing your husband.” They’ll say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, you’re right.” They talk it out of them.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Tony?
Flew: Well, about the particular psychological transformation, I’m not going to try and be an expert on this. It seems to me that there was plenty of reason for Paul to be upset. After all, he had been involved in persecuting Christians and sometimes people have changes of mind in this sort of thing.
Habermas: How would we get Paul wanting to convert so much that he’s on the way to Damascus to imprison or kill Christians and without any evidence from his writings that he wants to change? He doesn’t fit any of those people groups. But my big problem is that he has to have four problems at the same time: conversion disorder, auditory hallucination, visual hallucination, and a Messiah complex because he says, “God spoke to me and I have a message for everybody in the world.” That’s four. That’s a pretty complicated theory to have four things happen. But my point was, these other things don’t come from conversion disorder in the DSM. So you’ve got to have four simultaneous problems at the same time and I just think that’s highly improbable that would all happen to a man without cause, from his own writings.
Ankerberg: Yes. What grounds would Kent give in terms of saying that from the data, from the evidence he would draw those things? Because we don’t seem to get that picture from the apostle Paul. Isn’t that more hypotheses?
Flew: Well, yes, it certainly is. In view of the enormous shortage of evidence from any non-Christian source, you can’t expect to produce with any great confidence conclusions about what actually happened there. The list of things that we’ve got, okay, this is what we’ve got evidence for. But it’s against a great background of enormous ignorance about everything there. I think the most one can reasonably hope to do is to suggest some way of interpreting the evidence that we have got without postulating a physical body being actually seen and being visible to anyone who happened to be there and photographable if cameras had been invented.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to pick that up, but Gary, summarize where we’ve been, at least for this program. And what I’d like to do is then go to the crux of the matter: what Tony is talking about in terms of, what about other ancient historical information. What about that? There are four key historical facts that you’ve put in the book that you’ve pulled out of the 12 that you say are supported by a ton of evidence over here: 129 different quotes from like 44 to 49 different sources. We need to talk about that. But wrap up where we’re at right now.
Habermas: Well, what we have on the table is that Tony is using the thesis of Jack Kent in saying that the disciples and James had hallucinations, grief hallucinations; and Paul had a conversion disorder. I think the facts are grossly against both occurring. And Tony is right. There are a lot of things we don’t know here, but the problem is, the things we do know militate against both of these in great amounts of facts, I think, in everything: psychiatry, psychology, history. But you’re right, I think the four key facts that I assume we’ll come back to, I think we’re getting close now to the resurrection because out of that list of 12 we have some data that point to the fact that it was Jesus that they saw.
Ankerberg: Alright, now stay with us because in our next segment we’re going to talk about four key historical facts that are supported by ancient sources and I think you won’t want to miss that.

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