Is Our Preaching in Vain?

posted by Southern Evangelical Seminary

By Dr. David Haines,

Prior to beginning my Master’s studies at Southern Evangelical Seminary, I was working as a youth pastor at a church in Québec. Part of my ministry included ministering to university students. In this context, I became unmistakably aware of the necessity of studying Christian apologetics and Christian theology. These two disciplines were required to “defend” and coherently articulate the Historic Christian Faith. Recognizing the need, I began exploring the possibility of pursuing a seminary education. This investigation led me to Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), where I completed an M.A. in Philosophy, in 2011. The training that I received at SES greatly prepared me to pursue Ph.D. work. Furthermore, SES prepared me to be founder and director of the Society of Evangelical French Scholars. Our mission is to provide sound theological and philosophical resources for the local churches in the Francophone world.

My SES training has equipped me to serve the local church, to better respond to many of the questions of our church members, and to better teach and preach the word of God. I continue to be involved with SES through their National Conference on Christian Apologetics and outreach ministry (T.E.A.M.). The following is an article defending the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I credit SES faculty, specifically Dr. Leventhal and Dr. Howe, for equipping me to be able to defend and articulate the Historic Christian Faith. He has risen — Happy Easter!

Is Our Preaching in Vain?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, said that “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testify about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Cor. 15:14-15. All bible quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise noted.)” Without a doubt, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most important Christian doctrine. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that in the first Christian sermons and writings they were primarily interested in showing the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many arguments that can be brought forward to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, and these proofs are all interrelated. However, in this article, I would like to concentrate on one particular proof of the resurrection – the fact that the disciples actually believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Some readers may be surprised that I consider the disciples’ belief a “proof” of the resurrection, but continue to read, and you will discover that this is not only a great argument for the resurrection, it is one of the most interesting cases for the resurrection.

Before I lay out the argument, I would like to make some preliminary comments. First, due to the nature of the subject, we are not looking for a demonstration that proves with mathematical certainty that Jesus rose from the dead. When we deal with historical proofs we are looking, like a lawyer in a court case, for a probable argument that is reasonable and explains all of the evidence that we have on hand. Second, it is not necessary to presuppose that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, or infallible, nor that any of the miracles mentioned actually happened, I will simply assume that the New Testament does give valuable information about the disciples’ reactions to the events in question (There are many great works that defend the trustworthiness of the New Testament, and I refer the curious reader to authors such as F. F. Bruce, Richard Bauckham, and Bruce Manning Metzger. I will take for granted that the New Testament gives a trustworthy account of the events surrounding life of Christ.).

An Argument for the Resurrection

The argument that I am proposing can be delineated as follows:

  1. If the disciples did believe that Jesus rose from the dead, then something caused them to hold this belief.
  2. The disciples did believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
  3. Therefore, something caused them to hold this belief.
  4. Either this belief (a) was caused by an intentional falsehood (a lie), (b) was caused by psychological wish fulfillment, (c) was caused by a psychological reaction based upon being incapable of dealing with the death of Jesus (such as a hallucination), or (d) was caused by a literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  5. The belief was not caused by options (a), (b), or (c).
  6. Therefore, the cause of the disciple’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead is option (d) – that Jesus was actually resurrected.

The argument unfolds in two main steps: premises 1-3 and premises 4-6. The first two premises are uncontroversial, and premise 3 follows necessarily from the first two premises. Premises 4-6 form a complicated, but valid, disjunction, which means that if premises 4 and 5 are true, then the conclusion is true. The only objections that can be brought against premise 4 is that it either does not exhaust the possibilities, or that one of the possibilities cannot be considered as a possibility (for example, that the resurrection actually happening is not a viable option, but to claim that the resurrection is not a viable option begs the question against the argument; therefore, such a claim is logically fallacious). I am fully open to someone trying to bring another possibility to the table, but this merely adds an additional disjunct. Premise 5 is the important premise as it makes the controversial claim that the first three options are not likely candidates for the cause of the disciples’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead. If it can be shown that each of these options fail to explain the disciples’ belief, then premise 5 is true, and the conclusion follows necessarily. In order to defend premise 5, we need to show that none of the first three options could be a historically probable cause for the disciples’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead.

Each of the first three options have been treated extensively in other apologetic works (for example, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pp. 252-253.). Therefore, I will explain each point briefly and direct the reader to other sources that go into more details.

Learn how to defend the Resurrection at Southern Evangelical Seminary

 

Did the Disciples Believe a Lie?

The first option is that the story of the resurrection was a lie. This theory can account for the belief, but not for the other important facts. In light of the lives and teachings of the disciples, this option seems to be more impossible than the resurrection itself. The disciples constantly taught the importance of the telling the truth, and living virtuous lives (cf. Jn. 19:35. 1 Jn. 2:3-6. 1 Jn. 3:4-10. Tit. 1:10. Eph. 5:9. 1 Tim. 8-10. McDowell, EDV, 270.) In fact, according to Rev. 21:8 and Rev. 22:15, if the disciples lied about the resurrection of Jesus, then they are condemned to everlasting hell. Furthermore, they all showed that they would rather die than deny that Jesus rose from the dead (Cf. Acts 12:1-2. John Foxe, Fox’s Book of Martyr’s. McDowell, EDV, 271.). Finally, there were enough eyewitnesses around the very busy Jerusalem such that if the disciples had been lying, the lie would have been immediately revealed— especially considering the desire of the Pharisees to squelch this new belief.

The Skepticism of the Disciples

The second and third options can be treated together by simply showing that the disciples not only had no hope for the resurrection, but were skeptical of the initial reports that Jesus had risen from the dead. At this point, someone may object with “wish-fulfillment” or “hallucination”. Despite their differences, “wish-fulfillment” and “hallucination” are both sufficiently excluded as possibilities. Furthermore, the hallucination theory is refuted by the vast amount of recorded appearances of the resurrected Christ, including 500 people at the same time, as listed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7. The following will elucidate further the reasons for excluding “hallucination” and “wish-fulfillment” from the list of possibilities.

First, the disciples did not expect that Jesus would die. They expected him to liberate Israel from the Romans (Cf. Lk. 24:21. William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, eds., To 1500, vol. 1 of Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader, p. 12.). Second, the Gospels tell us that when Jesus was arrested the disciples went into hiding (Cf. Mk. 14:50-52. Mt. 26:56.), and stayed in hiding even after the crucifixion (Cf. Jn. 20:19.). We do not see here the courageous disciples who would preach to the entire world that Jesus had risen from the dead. In fact, the Gospel of John implies that the disciples, even after seeing the resurrected Christ, had no thought of “going into all the world”, rather they went fishing (Jn. 21:1-14). Therefore, something caused a major transformation in the disciples. Third, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Jesus had prophesied on many occasions that he would rise from the dead (Cf. Jn. 2:18-20, 10:17-18), but the disciples, according to their own testimony, did not understand these prophecies (Cf. Jn. 2:21-22, 20:9). Fourth, when the women went and told the disciples that they had seen the risen Lord, the disciples did not believe them; after all, the dead do not rise (Cf. Mk. 16:11. Lk. 24:10-12). It wasn’t just the testimony of the women that was not believed, Mark tells us that two disciples saw Jesus when they were walking in the country, but the other disciples still would not believe them (Cf. Mk. 16:12-13.). Fifth, when the disciples first heard that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb, they did not immediately think up the resurrection, rather, they became quite depressed (Cf. Lk. 24:17. Jn. 20:14-15.). Interestingly, the initial thought of Mary was that Jesus’ body had been stolen or moved (Cf. Jn. 20:15).

 

From Cowards to Martyrs

Finally, even after they had heard the testimonies of those who had seen Jesus and even after they had seen the empty tomb, they still did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. In fact, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the room where they were hiding, their first theory was that they were seeing a ghost, not that Jesus had risen from the dead (Cf. Lk. 24:36-37). They were so convinced that they were seeing a ghost that Jesus had to convince them that it was really him by eating food and letting them touch him (Cf. Mk. 16:14. Lk. 24:38-43. Jn. 20:20).

Everyone is familiar with doubting Thomas. Thomas refused to believe the testimony of all the other disciples and the women. It wasn’t until he saw Jesus and was challenged to put his hands in the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet that he believed that Jesus was really alive (Cf. Jn. 20:24-28.). The evidence that we have in the New Testament accounts of the disciples’ reactions to the events surrounding the resurrection leads us to believe that the disciples were the very first skeptics.  Even when Jesus presented himself to the disciples, they preferred to believe that he was a ghost, rather than to believe that he had risen from the dead. It seems, therefore, that the second and third options (wish-fulfillment and hallucination) are not possible explanations for the disciples’ belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. Therefore premise 5 is true.

As we noted above, if all of the possibilities are exhausted in premise four, and premise five is true, then the conclusion, that the only possible cause for the disciples’ belief, that Jesus rose from the dead, is that Jesus actually rose from the dead, follows necessarily. The very fact that the disciples went from scared and discouraged skeptics to courageous preachers of the resurrection of Christ is a fact that needs to be explained. Additionally, we have only considered the probable cause of the disciple’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead. There are two other New Testament people whose change of belief seems even more miraculous than that of the disciples – Saul of Tarsus and James the brother of Jesus; James was against Jesus prior to his death, became a leader in the Jerusalem church after Jesus appeared to him, and died for his new belief (Jn. 7:5, 1 Cor. 15:7, Acts 12:1-2). The only option that accounts for the fact that Saul and James believed that Jesus rose from the dead is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. I have advanced an argument by which I claim that the only possible explanation for this change of character and change of belief in the disciples is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Our faith does not rest on hallucinations or a psychological wish-fulfillment. It rests on the truth and testimony of those who have gone before us. Therefore, when it is proclaimed this Resurrection Sunday that “He is risen,” respond in confidence “He is risen indeed!”

Happy Easter!

Interested in defending the Christian Faith? Regardless of the degree you pursue at Southern Evangelical Seminary, you will be prepared to defend the Historic Christian Faith. 

 


Dr. David Haines was born and raised in Ontario, Canada. He holds a BTh. from Covington Theological Seminary, an M. A. in Philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary, and a PhD. in Philosophy from University Laval. He is the founder and president of Association Axiome (www.associationaxiome.com), and publishes regularly on his personal blog (philosopherdhaines.blogpost.ca). He is also a member of the pastoral team of a church plant in Québec, and teaches courses on apologetics, philosophy and christian theology, with two Evangelical Seminaries in Québec. David is also a member of the Administrative Board of the Société de Philosophie des Régions au Cœur du Québec.

 

 


Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006.

Bruce, F. F. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? 6th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing, 1981.

Edgar, William and K. Scott Oliphint, eds. To 1500. Volume 1 of Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.

Foxe, John. Fox’s Book of Martyr’s. Philadelphia, PA: Universal Book and Bible House, 1926.

Geisler, Norman L. & William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. 2nd ed. Chicago,  IL: Moody Publishers, 2012.

Lyttleton, George. Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul. London: Joseph Crukshank, 1785.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson  Publishers, 1999.

Metzger, Bruce Manning. The Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Ramsay, William M. St. Paul: The Traveler and Roman Citizen. 15th ed. Edited by Mark Wilson. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2001.

 

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