For the purposes of contrast and comparison, I’ll frame my response to Till over against the evidence I presented for the resurrection. First, I argued that the basic evidence for the New Testament is found in the fact that the New Testament documents are reliable, having more evidence for them than for any other book from the ancient world. This was supported by 13 different lines of evidence, most of which professor Till never really addressed. I hope he’ll address these 13 later on.
Second, I showed that the historical reliability of the New Testament documents affirm repeatedly that Jesus of Nazareth died physically on a cross, and rose from the dead several days later. That Jesus actually died was supported by nine arguments, again, most of which professor Till never addressed, we’ll wait to see if he addresses these nine arguments later.
Furthermore, Jesus’ resurrection was demonstrated by over 500 eyewitnesses over a 40 day period of time, on 12 separate occasions, observed his empty tomb, touched his reanimated body, saw him eat physical food, and listened to him teach nearly a month and a half. This is not hearsay evidence. By contrast, professor Till offered no first-hand evidence for the only logical alternative, namely that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Rather, he contented himself largely with an attempt to attack the credibility of the evidence that I presented. But this move will not work. For the topic, "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead", is a question which calls for an affirmation or denial.
But it is incumbent upon anyone making a truth-claim such as the this to offer positive evidence, which professor Till failed to do. At least no first-hand contemporary evidence such as was presented for our view. Hence, the choice of an intelligent listener is between accepting that Jesus did rise from the dead as supported by numerous lines of contemporary evidence, such as I presented. Or else that Jesus did not die and rise from the dead without any first-hand evidence for such a claim.
This choice should not be difficult for all who are interested in having a rational basis for their belief. Rather than offer any positive evidence contemporary of the events that Jesus did not rise from the dead, professor Till largely contented himself with an attempt to undermine the argument that Jesus did rise from the dead. But as every student of logic knows, giving arguments against an opposing view is not the same as giving arguments for one’s view. It’s simply a failure to provide any evidence for what one claims to be true. And when one fails to give any rational justification for his view, it is a rationally unjustified view. But no rational person should accept as truth, a rationally unjustified belief — certainly not one about an important issue such as the one we’re discussing tonight.
Logically, either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not. But since Professor Till has failed to support the position that Jesus did not rise from the dead, it remains only to examine his arguments against the evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead.
As for my second point that the basic New Testament documents affirm that Jesus really died physically and rose again several days later, professor Till never really offered any evidence against it. Rather, what he did was to ignore what these documents actually say and to offer his own speculations instead. But such an argument fails to address the real point. One that is obvious to anyone who reads the New Testament documents. Namely, that whether we accept or reject the New Testament message, they do affirm that Jesus died and rose from the dead.
One of the few points that professor Till really addressed was whether the basic New Testament documents are reliable when they affirm Jesus died and rose. In response he said first, in effect, the documents are not reliable because they’re not inerrant. But whether or not there are inconsequential errors in the record is both irrelevant and misses the point. First of all, it’s irrelevant to what I argued, since the argument does not depend on the claim that the New Testament documents are reliable in so far as they affirm the basic truths that Jesus died and rose again, not necessarily in every detail they affirm. What professor Till would have to do, and what he clearly did not do, is to prove that the New Testament documents are not reliable when they affirm that Jesus died and rose again. Whether the basic New Testament documents are inerrant in all things, is another topic for another night, one which apparently professor Till would rather debate than the one we discussing tonight.
Second, there is a related but equally fallacious argument in professor Till’s presentation. Namely, that whenever one finds discrepancies about an event, that the documents or testimony about that event cannot be reliable. But this clearly does not follow for several reasons. For one thing, it proves too much. It proves that most documents from antiquity are not reliable since they too have similar discrepancies. Thus, his argument, in effect, destroys our knowledge of all of ancient history. Furthermore, if professor Till is right, that all conflicting testimony on details in a courtroom proves that one cannot even know the broad facts of what happened. To borrow a contemporary example, it’s like arguing that since there are so many conflicting stories about the circumstance of President Kennedy’s death, that there is no good evidence that he actually died.
Furthermore, he fails to realize that there were not other people who believe in death and resurrection. Frazer’s Golden Bough thesis is almost a century old and it fails to recognize the significant difference between non-Christian belief in a spiritual afterlife and the Christian belief in bodily resurrection. None of the pagan religions believed in a literal, physical, bodily resurrection like the New Testament teaches. It’s a false analogy. It fails to account for the important difference between non-Christian belief in reincarnation into another body and resurrection of the same body leaving an empty tomb behind.
Finally, following David Hume, professor Till argued that regardless of whatever evidence there may be for the reliability of the New Testament documents, they should not be believed since they contain miracle stories. But this argument either begs the question, or else it’s false. It begs the question if one assumes that miracles like the resurrection did not happen, because miracles cannot happen. And if it admits that miracles can happen, then its wrong since the New Testament documents are reliable, that a resurrection did happen, which even David Hume admits, would be a miracle if it happened.
In short, the skeptic’s dilemma is that either miracles are assumed to be impossible before even looking at the evidence which begs the question, or else miracles are possible and we must look at historical evidence to see if indeed one has actually occurred. But as we’ve seen, there is strong evidence that the basic New Testament documents are historically reliable. And these documents demonstrate that Jesus died and rose from the dead.
In short, I have given strong contemporary evidence for the view that Jesus rose from the dead, and professor Till has offered only the improbability of miracles as a counter argument. But as we all know, the improbability against winning the lottery should in no way hinder anyone believing it has happened. Indeed, ruling out the credibility of the New Testament documents because central events have not occurred, is like refusing to believe that a hole-in-one has occurred since the odds are so improbable for one repeating it several times.
What is more, even if the event has never occurred before, this is not an invalid argument against it happening once. I don’t know of a single naturalistic scientist who will refused to believe in the spontaneous generation of first life even though they have never seen it happen, nor know it to have happened repeatedly since it first allegedly occurred in the primal pond — or wherever. Likewise, no intelligent person should reject the resurrection of Christ, nor the reliability of the New Testament that relates it, simply because no one alive has witnessed such event.
The rational personal doesn’t make up his mind in advance of an event as to whether it can or cannot happen. Rather he opens his mind to the evidence of what actually did happen, and as we have seen, the evidence is overwhelming to the fact that Jesus did die and rise from the dead. And since no real evidence has been presented for a contrary view, a rational person ought to believe it has happened. Thank you. [loud applause]