Ep 3 | 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 have two guests today that are very special that are debating the topic, Did Jesus rise from the dead? They are: Dr. Antony Flew, considered by many to be the world’s foremost philosophical atheist; a man who has authored more than 23 books including Hume’s Philosophy of Belief, God and Philosophy, Introduction to Western Philosophy, The Presumption of Atheism and Other Philosophical Essays on God, Freedom, and Immortality.
My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, a renowned Christian philosopher and historian, who is considered by many to be the foremost expert on the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Gary has authored 21 books including The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, In Defense of Miracles, and Why Believe? God Exists!
Gentlemen, we’re glad that you are here.
We are moving on in terms of the case, Dr. Habermas, for Christians believing in the resurrection, the literal physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, we have talked about hallucination. We’ve talked about there’s 12 historical facts that have been accepted by all critical scholars. And we’ve even gone down to four. I’d like to come back to a couple of those. One is, some people doubt that Jesus actually died on the cross. In other words, Tony brought up in the beginning of the program, “We haven’t got a date for His birth; we haven’t got a date toward the end.” What about that? How do we know that Jesus actually died on the cross? Let’s start with that. Do we have any other sources outside of the New Testament that nail that one down?
Habermas: Well, when I think of a case of crucifixion, you have data coming in from a variety of angles. First of all, medical data; you have critical data from scholars; you have extra-biblical data in wide variety. I said earlier that John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, co-founders of the Jesus Seminar, both said that the fact that Jesus was crucified is as sure as any fact in the ancient world, certainly in the life of Christ. Why do they say that?
Well, medical facts written briefly in the Journal of the American Medical Association article about 15 years ago, and there’s many other dozens of medical articles. Death by crucifixion is essentially death by asphyxiation. The centurion or any other person standing at a crucifixion does not have to have an EEG or an EKG. If you’re hanging low on the cross for any amount of time – studies from volunteers actually show a cut-off point of about 12 minutes – if you’re hanging low for any amount of time, you’re not faking, you’re dead.
And you’ve got the problem of the spear in the side, which is in the gospel of John but which is confirmed from two other sources outside the Bible – one Roman; one Christian – that they did these things. They offered a coup de grace.
You’ve got David Strauss’ critique, a famous critique, who said that if Jesus got off the cross and He was alive, you have a horrible problem. Because if He shows Himself to the disciples, you’ve got the problem that He’s living but He’s not raised. And if they didn’t believe He was raised, there’s no Christianity. Now, that’s some of the “medicine.”
I told you about Borg and Crossan. Why did they think that? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. And I think they take the Gospels very seriously here. But the extra-biblical data that you asked for, of the 17 extra-biblical, non-Christian sources within about 100-150 years from the life of Jesus, 12 of them, roughly two-thirds, mention the cross and all kinds of details. And also, Paul is our number one scholar here….
Ankerberg: Give me a couple of them. Give me a couple of the outside sources.
Habermas: Outside sources: Tacitus mentions the fact that Jesus died on the cross. He said Pontius Pilate was the Judean procurator. He said that Tiberius was the governor. You have Lucian, the famous satirist, who called Him “a crucified sophist.” You’ve got Mara Bar-Serapion, who tells his son to emulate Jesus who gave us life and so on. Josephus, in a passage, although it’s disputed virtually everybody believes the portion about the cross there, that He died. And Josephus also mentions Tiberius Caesar. So this is all right there. You’ve got some Gnostic sources that mention these things. You’ve got Thallus and Phlegon, two scholars that mention that the darkness surrounded the world when Jesus was crucified. So there are a bunch of them. And you’ve got Paul that we both consider the best source here. Paul mentions the crucifixion of Jesus on several occasions and says that’s his major preaching point.
Ankerberg: Okay. But the Qur’an says that Jesus didn’t die on the cross. What would you say to those folks?
Habermas: In 1985 we had a “Q&A” from the crowd when one of the students said, they must have taken the wrong impression, but they said, “So you believe Jesus didn’t die on the cross.” And I distinctly remember him calling the Swoon Theory rubbish.
Ankerberg: Now, John Dominic Crossan, although he would admit that Christ died on the cross, says He was probably laid over in some trash heap and torn apart by the dogs. He doesn’t believe this tomb idea. Now, the tomb in which Jesus was buried, talk about that. What’s the evidence? First of all, let’s get Him buried. Was He buried in a tomb? What’s the evidence for that?
Habermas: Well, the interesting thing about Crossan is very few of his colleagues agree with him here. There’s not a bit of evidence, not a bit, that says Jesus was buried in an unknown plot and chewed up. And there’s a lot of data to think that He was… let’s put it this way – the data I’ll get to in a second – Crossan argues that He was buried in a separate plot, but there’s not any data. And you know, it’s usually the Christians, we are often thought of as Christians being put back on their heels, saying, “Where’s the data? Where’s the data?” But I wonder, where Dr. Crossan says He was buried in a common grave and chewed up by dogs, I think it’s real easy. You say, “Give me one source.”
Ankerberg: Alright, Tony. Are we still on board on this one so far?
Flew: Well, I should have thought that this sort of detail is something in which we’re entirely dependent on the Gospel evidence, aren’t we? This sort of point.
Ankerberg: Are we?
Habermas: I disagree.
Ankerberg: Why? Talk to your buddy there.
Habermas: Yeah, talk to my buddy. Alright, two examples: Acts 13. In Acts there are a lot of creedal passages, small creeds. And in Acts 13 we are told that He was laid in a tomb and God raised Him. [Acts 13:29-30] So we have an empty tomb.
Back to our buddy, Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses a long sentence with what’s called a “triple hoti clause.” In the Hebrew it reads like…. well, Hebrew thinking, but in the Greek, it reads like this: Paul says He died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised, and that He appeared. [1 Cor. 15:3-5]
So, if you’ve got a person that is dead, buried, raised, and appears, it’s very hard to imagine that sequence without what’s going down is what’s coming up. I think Paul is very clear that what went down is what comes up. You’ve got this “and, and, and” – triple hoti clause. “He died; He was buried; He was raised; He appeared.”
And you’ve got Philippians 3:11 again: ek anastasos, “coming out from among the dead.” How you can have that combination and be a Pharisee and believe that something comes down is not coming up, I think we do have Paul on the empty tomb.
Ankerberg: Yes, and that goes back. If he wrote it in 55; he preached it in 51; and he got it from Peter in 35. Peter had to get it from someplace, and he said all the boys were preaching the same thing.
Habermas: Sure. And you’ve got that early text in Acts 13. But this is Paul on the empty tomb. I think we’ve got a number of other reasons for believing the empty tomb, also.
Ankerberg: Why do you think that the evidence shows, okay, He was put into the tomb, why do you think that the tomb was empty on the third day or a few days after Christ died? Let’s go the opposite direction.
Habermas: Why do I think it was empty?
Ankerberg: Yes. In other words, what’s the evidence that shows that it was empty?
Habermas: Oh, I thought you were going say, “Why was it empty?” And I was going to say, “Because He was raised.”
Ankerberg: There you go!
Habermas: Okay. Evidence for the empty tomb. Well, the one hint I just gave is that we do have some early accounts: a creedal passage in Acts 13 and 1 Corinthians 15 on Paul’s sequence. But a couple of other things: the Jews admitted the empty tomb. And we have three sources: not just Matthew, but we have Justin Martyr and Tertullian. All three tell us that the Jews admitted the tomb was empty.
The fact that Jesus died in the same city that the disciples did their earliest preaching. Everybody realizes that early Christian preaching happened in Jerusalem. I don’t know that there is anybody who disagrees with that. And yet, there’s a problem. The city where He died is the city where they began preaching a few days later. If that tomb is full, don’t you think somebody would say, “Uh, fellows, we’ve got a little problem here. This little matter of a body.” So, bad place to be preaching it. They should have been preaching in Galilee or Rome, but not Jerusalem. So you’ve got the city of Jerusalem as an evidence.
You’ve got early attestation. You’ve got the Jews admitting it. And you know, there’s a critical historical principle: What your enemies admit is usually true. It’s called the principle of enemy attestation. And I could throw some others in there, too. If Rudolf Bultmann is right, and the New Testament, if the Gospels are Monday morning quarterbacking – reading ideas of 80ish AD back into the Gospels – you don’t pick women as your witnesses.
Ankerberg: Why?
Habermas: I don’t want to offend people in the crowd here, but in the first century, a woman could not testify in a court of law. Jewish writing said women are liars. And the interesting thing is, Luke 24:11, when the women come back from the tomb and tell the disciples, they thought they were spreading gossip. They thought they were spreading tales. So, if I’m writing the story and retrojecting it back from 80ish AD to 30 AD, I don’t pick women as my prime witnesses. So there’s another big problem.
Those are just some of the evidences for the empty tomb. You’ve got the women. You’ve got early attestation by Paul. You’ve got the Jews admitting it. And Jerusalem as the city, that’s a big “No-No;” you don’t preach in the city where the body’s in the tomb. There’s four there I’d love Tony to respond to.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and, Tony, when we come back we’ll let you respond. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back and we’re talking with two wonderful guests on the topic: Did Jesus rise from the dead? We’re talking with 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 Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a fascinating discussion and a crucial discussion. And Tony, I want to know, what do you think about this evidence that Dr. Habermas just presented on the empty tomb? Do you go along with it?
Flew: I don’t think you should be apologetic about this at all. These facts are facts and I could rather wish that in these topics more people were prepared to face facts rather than run away and say, “Mustn’t say that.” No. This is a very impressive piece of argument, I think.
Habermas: So you accept the empty tomb?
Flew: Well, I think this is an impressive testimony.
Habermas: Thank you.
Flew: Because, you know, it’s very difficult to get around this.
Habermas: It seems earlier, this just occurs to me, if the tomb is empty, what does that say to hallucination? Because hallucination required that the body be in the tomb.
Ankerberg: Well, yes, but the first question is, “What happened to the body?”
Habermas: That’s your question.
Flew: Well, we have no independent witnesses. There are all sorts of ways of removing bodies. I’m not going to offer a theory because I simply don’t think one can reconstruct the story of what happened in the city and all that long ago and we haven’t got the sort of evidence that one might have today with the invention of cameras and all the rest of it.
Ankerberg: Alright, Gary, now in your book, let’s stop right there and I’ll give a plug to your book, The Historical Jesus, alright. You’ve got a whole chapter on how Tony’s friends, other naturalists, shot themselves in the foot by proposing all kinds of different ideas for what happened to the body. Roll through it quickly in two minutes. Hit some of the high spots.
Habermas: Well, we’ve talked about several. Some people say Jesus didn’t die on the cross, although there’s virtually no scholar out there that says that today. But if someone thinks Jesus didn’t die on the cross, you’ve got the medical data; you’ve got to go with Paul; you have the extra-biblical evidence; you’ve got the Gospels. You’ve got a lot of things. You asked him earlier, “Did the disciples lie?” Of course, some people think. And he said, “No.”
Some people think the disciples stole the body and then lied about the appearances. Doesn’t work because they were transformed. Most of them died for what they believed to be true. We’ve talked about hallucinations. That’s an important theory because it’s the one he holds. Some have said the whole thing is a legend. But the problem with a legend is, one of the main problems, is you’ve got a man like Paul that we have early data, and for legend theory to be true, you want to probably get that out of the hands of the eyewitnesses and removed a little bit past. I mean, for example, our two best biographies of Alexander the Great are not written for three to four centuries after Alexander. And it’s after that time that mythology starts creeping in, miraculous stories about Alexander which, by the way, are post-Christian. They come after Christ and he lived in the fourth century BC.
So, for legend, when you’ve got early eyewitnesses, that’s a real problem. So I think this data can respond with six or eight refutations of every naturalistic theory but I think that’s important because the one that’s been on the table tonight is hallucination and I think the empty tomb is one more huge problem. Because now Tony has to have two of these theories. He’s got to have hallucination… well, actually, he’s got to have three. He’s got to have one kind of hallucination for Paul; one kind of hallucination for the disciples, that’s what he chooses; and now he’s got a problem with the body and the tomb. Now, he’s right: bodies vacate tombs for different reasons; however, he’s got to have the body vacating the tomb happening simultaneously with the disciples seeing the appearances. And, of course, he’s got Paul later. So now he’s starting to pile up these theories and I think the more improbable theories you have, you can have a highly probable….
Ankerberg: Didn’t he write an article on that somewhere along the line.
Habermas: Somewhere, somewhere.
Flew: Look, I’m not offering a naturalistic account of what happened. I’m not trying… I don’t think it’s possible to offer any satisfactory naturalistic account to what…
Habermas: But you accept the two hallucination theories.
Flew: But I do think hallucination covers a lot of the data. But I don’t offer anything to cover the empty tomb evidence.
Ankerberg: Tony, do you believe in group hallucinations?
Flew: I don’t see that it is necessary to rule this out. But I think it’s important to make a distinction that doesn’t seem to have been made in the Gospels between a group of people seeing something severally and them seeing it together. You know, statements that these things were afterwards “seen by the twelve.” This is not a categorical statement that they were all together when they had the experience.
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.
Hallucinations are pretty rare. I’ll tell you the conditions under which they occur. Bodily depravation or when someone is taking drugs; and these aren’t the conditions of the disciples. So he says “no group hallucinations” but 10 or 20 people are having their own hallucinations without medical warrant. But he’s got to have everybody having them. I just think it’s a real issue.
Flew: All these things I’ve got to do if I was going to offer what I don’t believe is possible for anyone to offer: a full, naturalistic account of what was going on there.
Habermas: You’re doing a good job, because he’s got single hallucinations to everybody….
Flew: Wait a minute. Another thing that I noted in the last 15 years is that there are one or two very spectacular cases of mass hallucinations: the supposed “miracle of Fatima,” you know.
Habermas: Or Medjugorje.
Flew: Not many people….
Habermas: Yugoslavia.
Flew: Yes. How many were involved?
Habermas: Tens of thousands. But the only problem with these and with Fatima where people come with the so-called apparitions of Mary is that it’s exactly the opposite of what the disciples are seeing. Because people go to Lourdes or to Fatima or to Medjugorje. You’ve got 10,000 people watching the children watch Mary. The only problem is, the 10,000 people in the crowd don’t see anything except they say they see “signs in the heavens” but they don’t see Mary. Of course, they don’t see Jesus.
Flew: But the hallucinationists are seeing the on goings in the heavens, weren’t they?
Habermas: That’s an illusion, though, not a hallucination. If you’re going to report that the sun is moving…. Remember Kent’s differentiation between illusion and hallucination? An illusion is when you see something and think it’s something else. A hallucination is when there’s no objective referent. And so the people standing there in Medjugorje, they say they see signs in the heavens, but after all, there are stars, there are trees, there are mountains, there is a sun. What they say is, the sun was moving and the stars were moving, but it really is the sun and stars. That’s far different from saying they saw Mary. I mean, my point is that at Medjugorje, 99.9 percent of the people do not see Mary.
Flew: No. No.
Habermas: But with the disciples, you’ve got the whole group seeing Jesus. So I just don’t think it’s an analogy. I think there’s a real problem there using that. And I definitely don’t think it’s a mass hallucination. It may be a mass illusion, but an illusion, once again, is when you see something: water on the highway, or take your hat off and put it on your bed at night and wake up and think someone is standing in your room; or a magician. Those are illusions. But a hallucination is a much more radical concept, and hence what I’m saying. When he says 12 or 15 or 20 people have to have individual hallucinations, this is very radical, very tough to prove.
Ankerberg: Okay, over the 15 years Tony has been thinking about this, you’ve been thinking about Tony, haven’t you?
Habermas: Yes. I have been thinking about Tony.
Ankerberg: What would you like to say to him?
Habermas: Well, in a real special sort of way because, folks, I’ve dialogued with a lot of atheists, a lot of skeptics. I’ve had two and three and five year correspondence. I’ve had eight year correspondence right now with an agnostic. But Tony, I’m saying this sincerely, Tony is the kindest, most moral, most sincere atheist that I know. And we’ve been friends for 15 years. I have photographs in 1985 of my two-year-old daughter sitting on his knee. He would not let her go to bed until he gave her a goodnight kiss. She’s 17 years old. We still have those photos before and after. I mean, he’s a good guy. But I’ve also been praying for him for 15 years. Tony, nothing is impossible, buddy.
Flew: At some stage, could we go back to St. Paul? As I understand it, what happened on the Road to Damascus was that he had an experience and nothing appeared to his companions other than possibly they heard a voice.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to hold it right there. That’ll be our question that we’ll start off the next program with, so join us.

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