Ep 2 | 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.

Ankerberg: Welcome. We’re discussing the topic, Did Jesus rise from the dead? And we’re talking with two wonderful guests: Dr. Antony Flew, considered by many to be the world’s foremost contemporary philosophical atheist; and Dr. Gary Habermas, a renowned Christian philosopher and historian, considered by many to be the foremost expert on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
And guys, I just appreciate your being here. We want to jump right to the crux of the matter: Do we have historical evidence to prove that Jesus actually lived? Did He die on a cross? What about the disciples? Did they have experiences that they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus? You’ve got four facts, Dr. Habermas, that you have said, out of the 12 that you presented in our last segment, that all critical scholars would basically agree with these facts. There’s a ton of evidence. We need some of that evidence. But first of all, what are the facts?
Habermas: Well, what I did, John, from this list of 12 facts from, let’s say, Friday to Sunday in the life of Jesus traditionally, I’ve taken four. Now, it’s an arbitrary number because to my knowledge, nobody would give you as few as four. I mean, Rudolf Bultmann probably gives you 20 from this last half a week in Jesus’ life. But what I’ve done is, I think there are four facts out of the 12 that do three things. First of all, I think that these and a couple others of the 12 facts but these in particular you can refute the major naturalistic theories using nothing but the data surrounding these facts. Secondly, you’ve got the best evidences for the resurrection here. And third, you’re doing all of it with a very small kernel of historical data. So you’ve not requiring the Gospels or this or that. This all comes from Paul.
Ankerberg: What are they? What are the facts?
Habermas: Well, the first one is that Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion; secondly, the disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus; thirdly, their lives were changed; they were transformed. They undeniably believed that Jesus saw them and they turned the world upside down; and fourthly, a man named Paul, as we’ve discussed, a skeptic, a critic who killed Christians and imprisoned them, came to Christ by an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
Ankerberg: Alright, now, Tony next to you would be saying that, “Hey, if you’re not a Christian, some of those facts….” Or Tony, you tell him. Would you agree with all those facts?
Flew: Yes, I think I would.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Flew: But these literal appearances. See, I’m very much a sympathizer of the Thomas who appears very late really in the Gospel story, one with doubts as to whether there is an actual physical body there. And as far as I can see, there’s nothing said to say that he actually did put his hands in and find… he’s told he ought to do and then Jesus is reported as saying that he had seen rather than he had actually felt the body. [John 20:27-28]
Ankerberg: Gary, what do you think?
Habermas: Well, He tells Thomas to touch Him. Tony’s right. John does not tell us that Thomas touched Him. I would add the following, though. Ignatius, just perhaps ten years after the Gospel of John, 107 AD, Ignatius says at that point that Thomas did touch Him. Be that as it may, we’ve got two earlier accounts of women touching Jesus from the Gospels. One is the women as a whole who take Jesus by the ankles in Matthew 28:9; and we’ve got the case of Mary Magdalene who comes back alone and she thinks He’s the gardener and she turns around and sees Him and she knows it’s Him. And He says, “Stop clinging to me.” [John 20:17] So I get this picture of Mary holding Him for all she’s worth. So we have the women touching Him. Mary touching Him. And at least Ignatius says Thomas touched Him.
Ankerberg: Not only that, but the fact is if you’re going to use the account about Thomas, where, “I won’t believe!” Okay? You have a skeptic there. “I won’t believe until I can put my hands right into the nail prints and see the side.” [John 20:25] Okay, whatever happened, you have his testimony after he said that, “My Lord, my God.” [John 20:28] So something happened. What do you think?
Flew: Well, it is curious that Jesus is reported as saying not, “So now you’ve touched, you believe” and so on. But He is saying that he had seen. It’s a very peculiar thing to my mind. It’s not the way that I would have written a report if I’d been there and seen someone actually touching after they….
Habermas: What about the women in the two accounts? The women and Mary Magdalene alone. Do you think they….
Flew: Well, these are accounts that they did. Yes, indeed. But that we have an account that they touched Him is not a decisive reason to believe that He was touched. This is what they were reported as having done.
Habermas: But you’d have more to complain about if no one had touched Him in the Gospels.
Flew: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Habermas: At least we have these three cases because Ignatius says Thomas touched Him.
Flew: Yes, but it’s remarkably little actually. After all, we all presumably remember: “Art thou not fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight?” You know? This is surely the first thing anyone would do if they were wondering whether the vision was a seeing of something that was there that other people could see and touch and so on or not.
Habermas: If you’re going to admit the data from the Gospels there, the same author of the fourth Gospel, 1 John, starts out the first three verses and says, “We’ve seen Him with our eyes. Our hands have touched Him. We’ve beheld the Word….” [1 John 1:1-3] You know, in John 1:14: “The Word was made flesh.” So John comes back in the first epistle. If you like that material….
Ankerberg: Let me read it to you here. Six times in 1 John 1:1-3 he says “we have seen something.” Six times “we have heard something.” And he says, “That which we have heard which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at [the Greek is “scrutinized”] and our hands have touched.” I think it was in Luke, wasn’t it, where Jesus said, “Touch me and see that I am not a ghost.” [Luke 24:39]
Habermas: Yes. Then eats.
Ankerberg: Yeah, so the evidence seems to show that we have a literal physical body going on here that the boys were a little bit surprised to see in the first place. But it took them quite a few experiences and they did touch, they did see, and that’s what they’re claiming.
Flew: No, they didn’t touch, actually. They saw some vision of someone eating, didn’t they?
Ankerberg: No he says there, “That which we touched.” [1 John 1:1]
Habermas: Well, if you like the straightforward account in Luke 24:39, Jesus said, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.”
Flew: Oh, yes.
Habermas: So He is saying, “I’m not a spirit” if we take the Gospels straightforwardly.
Flew: Well, a spirit is claiming not to be a spirit.
Habermas: Since He is saying He is not a spirit, I assume that means He’s not a spirit.
Ankerberg: There are some people, Gary, that would say that, “You know, the resurrection, as you go into a lot of churches across the country, the minister in that church would say this is not a physical literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what they call a spiritual resurrection from the dead.” Why not? Why not just a spiritual resurrection?
Habermas: Well, this is the earlier point that I was at odds with Tony. I would say today this is a statement whenever you try to tell us where scholars are today. But I’m currently studying 100 sources on the resurrection from 1975 to 2000 to see if I can get a feel for where critical scholars are. And by far most scholars today think something really happened; the disciples had real experiences. They believed they saw the risen Jesus. And most of these scholars think the disciples really saw something; they had real experiences. But the majority of scholars who will admit, some of them think even Jesus appeared there, they shy away from the physical body and they think, I don’t know, these are my words but maybe some kind of a shimmering hologram or something. So that’s probably the typical approach today from skeptics that are somewhere in between the two of us.
Ankerberg: Another word that people would usually say is, “Hey, Paul uses the word spiritual in 1 Corinthians 15. Does he mean spiritual in the sense of some ethereal kind of wispy kind of see-through thing? Or is this a literal physical body?” What do the words mean there?
Habermas: This is crucial for us because we believe that, and we’ve been playing around here with the Gospels a little bit, but we would both say Paul is by far the best evidence.
Flew: Right.
Habermas: He’s the only eyewitness and that’s what everybody says today. So what Paul thinks about the resurrection body is crucial. Now, just a note there, 1 Corinthians 15. There’s obviously a Greek word for spirit: pneuma. Paul doesn’t choose that word. He says “spiritual body.” So I assume there’s some change going on, but the idea is there’s a physical body there. Now to show my earlier comment, I would not think that Paul is saying Jesus appeared as a spirit. And if you want me to give that to you briefly in a Pauline book accepted by all critics, Philippians. By the way, critics almost always accept Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians. G. A. Wells, who is probably, I’m sure, to the left of Tony, he accepts eight of Paul’s. He accepts those five and three others. In Philippians 3….
Ankerberg: I’m going to ask you to hold on and we’ll take a break and we’ll come right back and hear the reasons why it’s not a spiritual resurrection, but a physical resurrection. Hang in there with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. Thanks for joining us. We’re with Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Antony Flew. We’re debating the question, Did Jesus rise from the dead?” And we’re on this thing of, what kind of resurrection happened? If you do say that Jesus came forth from the dead, what kind of body was there? Was it a spiritual body? What does that mean? Was it a physical body? What happened?
Habermas: Philippians 3; it’s a short chapter. There are 21 verses. But Paul says three things in one chapter that indicates that he’s talking about a physical resurrection. In the opening verses he says, “I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews and as touching the law,” he said, “I was a Pharisee.”
Now, it’s very well known that the Pharisee believed in a bodily resurrection. In fact, according to Acts 23, as Paul was being taken captive by the Romans to prevent him getting killed, he shouted out to the group of people and said, “Why are you taking me? Because I believe in the resurrection of the dead?” He means a literal resurrection. The Pharisees there said, “There’s nothing wrong with this guy.” But the Sadducees don’t like it. So as a Pharisee, he’s agreeing with the Pharisees. The first evidence from Philippians 3, as a Pharisee, he believes in a physical resurrection.
Secondly, in verse 11 he says, “That I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” Now, the normal Greek word for resurrection is anastasis but in this passage, Philippians 3:11, he puts a prefix on there, ek anastasis. Ek anastasis, according to all Greek scholars that I know of, they translate this passage as, “The out resurrection from among the dead.” Paul says that “I want to attain the out resurrection.” Now, to a Jew, “out resurrection” means “what goes down is what comes up.” You come out from the death. And then just a few verses later, Philippians 3:20-21, he says, “We look from heaven for Jesus who will change our vile soma (body) to be like unto His glorious soma (or body)” when he should have said pneuma, according to this other view. So he’s a Pharisee: physical resurrection; ek anostasis: “resurrection from out among the dead ones.”
And three, he says, “He will change my body to be like His body.” So right there in Philippians 3 alone I think this picture of Paul of Jesus being some wispy spirit that appeared to him on the road to Damascus doesn’t fit Paul’s own data.
Ankerberg: Tony, you are an empiricist. I mean, you’ve got to follow the evidence. What do you do with this evidence?
Flew: Well, I find the idea of a spiritual body very peculiar in that, after all, when you say something is spiritual it’s rather like saying it’s immaterial. If you say it’s immaterial, you’re not telling us of any characteristic at all that you know of that it has. It seems to me that immaterial substance is really nothing at all. And a spiritual body seems to me not to be a body at all.
Ankerberg: Alright, let me ask you a question. If I say the Bible is a spiritual book, does it mean that it’s not a material thing?
Flew: No.
Ankerberg: Well, could it be a spiritual body and still be a physical body?
Flew: Well, it might be the body of someone you would say is a spiritual person.
Ankerberg: Gary?
Habermas: He’s exactly right. It’s an ontological comment, not a behavioral comment. However, I think the issue here is Tony is looking at the phrase “spiritual body” with 20th century empiricist or analytic eyes, and I think Paul has to describe what he means by spiritual body. And he’s already said from Philippians 3, “I am a Pharisee so I believe the resurrection of the body”; 2), ek anostasis, “out from among the dead ones”; and 3), he calls it “He will change my vile body to be like His.” Now there it’s “glorious body.” It’s not “spiritual body” in Philippians 3:20-21, it’s “glorious body.” So now you’ve got body plus something else. I suppose some kind of glory but not less than a body. So maybe the problem is we’re looking at this word “spiritual” with our 20th century eyes. But I guess here is the issue” if Paul is clear in Philippians 3 that this is not some wispy spirit, then we can’t have the problem of saying that this is non-physical because he’s telling us what he means by it. I take Philippians 3 to be a bit of a commentary on 1 Corinthians 15.
Ankerberg: Gary, so far we’ve got intellectual discussion here on the evidence. But I’m going to throw in a personal note, Tony, if you don’t mind. Let’s hear what Gary has to say. In 1995, your wife Debbie, that every one of your students that I’ve seen letters and heard about, said that you guys had a love affair that was made in heaven, and yet she came down at 40-some years of age with what?
Habermas: Stomach cancer. Yeah, Tony was at my house in 1985 and just yesterday we were talking about this because he didn’t know it had happened. But my wife passed away in the summer of 1995 with stomach cancer. And, you know, my first thought – you mentioned my skepticism earlier – I literally thought to myself, “Oh, no. Here comes the doubts again.” And they never came. But I had a graduate student, who is now on our faculty, who called me at the time and he said, “Where would you be right now if it weren’t for the resurrection?”
And for me, Paul’s point there about mourning, Christians mourn, “but not as those without hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] It makes all the difference in the world whether you mourn with hope or without hope. We all despair when we lose a loved one, as this point about the disciples. But you know, to me, mourning my wife without the resurrection and mourning my wife with the resurrection makes all the difference in the world.
So to me, the answer to my questions in 1995 went something like this: If this is a world in which God has raised Jesus from the dead, then if that’s true in 30 AD, it’s still true in 1995 and I can rest assured. I didn’t know the answer. I don’t know the answer to pain and suffering. I don’t know anybody who does, theist or atheist. We don’t know the answers to pain and suffering, but with something like the resurrection, it made existential sense to me because it said something about her; where she was going and where I’m going.
Ankerberg: So, spiritual/physical, what kind of way do you expect to see your wife, then?
Habermas: Right now I think she’s existing without a body, but I think we will be together and she will have a body, as I will.
Ankerberg: Explain that.
Habermas: Again, that’s Philippians 3:21.
Ankerberg: Explain that, the intermediate state. In between, what happens? What happens when, “Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”? [2 Cor 5:6, 8] What does that mean?
Habermas: I think at the moment of death, before the Lord returns, believers are in the presence of the Lord without a physical body. I’ve got a friend, a philosopher buddy, Peter Kreeft at Boston College, who says Plato was right as far as he went, he just didn’t go far enough. Plato believed in a disembodied state. What Plato did not believe in was a re-embodied state. And I think orthodox Jews and Christians share that same hope.
Ankerberg: Alright, Tony, come on back in terms of the information, we’re still debating the question, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” If the disciples saw something, what do you think? With the evidence that they gave, were they lying?
Flew: Oh, good heavens, no. Because lying involves intention.
Ankerberg: So they didn’t intend to lie.
Flew: Well, to lie, you intend to say something which is false.
Ankerberg: Do you think the guys didn’t intend to but gave different information than what they really meant?
Habermas: Well, Tony has mentioned a very key point here. What I indicated earlier was the key list for me on that list of 12, as the disciples had experiences which they believed not lied but they believed they had seen the risen Jesus. The crux of this discussion, I think the closest we will get to an answer is the question, “What did they see?” The disciples claimed it was something visual. Now, Tony’s view, hallucinations and two different kinds, also claim something visual but something visual for which there is no external referent. I think you have a problem here, because if Paul is not a victim of conversion disorder and if the disciples are not good candidates for hallucinations, and yet we admit the disciples thought they saw something, you’re running out of possibilities.
Ankerberg: What do you think, Tony?
Flew: Well, it may be that we are here confronted with something for which we have no other experience, because I find… perhaps one has to raise in considering any alleged miracle, what it is rational for you to do depends on what your prior beliefs were. 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. But, of course, for people in Jerusalem who were virtually all believing Jews of some sort, either Sadducee or Pharisee or not, the question of what it is rational to believe is entirely different because they all were committed to the idea that a Messiah was going to come and that the Messiah would work miracles and so on. So I think you could argue that it was entirely rational for all these people to believe this is so. And, of course, for Christian believers now it may be rational to take this as a miraculous thing. But it isn’t for me.
Ankerberg: Alright, one final statement.
Habermas: So, if I heard you right, Christians at least are rational in believing the resurrection.
Flew: I think that could be said, yes.
Habermas: I think that’s an incredible admission but an honest admission from an honest man because Tony is a very honest person. I’ve always found him to be that way. But I think that’s great evidence, because if we’re rational, then that means we’ve got reasons for it. Maybe we’ll find out why Tony….
Flew: And reasons for your belief in God, of course.
Habermas: Well, reasons for belief in God, too. I’d like to find out why he doesn’t think those reasons are good tonight.
Ankerberg: Alright, stick with us. We’re going to talk about this more. In our next segment that’s coming up we’re going to talk about the empty tomb and what that has to do with this whole thing. We’ll talk about it then.

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