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Tyler Wunder Davis Notes



1. See Sections I.1 and I.2 for Davis’ analyses of these world views. In brief, supernaturalists grant the existence of supernatural entities, while naturalists do not.

2. Concerning the distinction between a corpse being resurrected into a supernatural being rather than being revived back to natural (as opposed to supernatural) life, I will accept the less stringent criterion of revival and for the duration of this study will interpret “resurrection” in this way (see Cavin 1995).

3. Ironically, in a debate over the historicity of the resurrection between Habermas and the famous English atheist, Antony Flew, which took place one year after Davis’ initial statement of DT, the positions taken were approximations of Davis’ most persuasive cases. Two panels of judges — one of professional debate judges, the other of philosophers — decided that Habermas’ Christian position overwhelmed Flew’s atheistic stance (the philosophers voted 4-0, with one draw, while the debaters voted 3-2, see Habermas 1987, pp.xiii-xv). For a negative but fair criticism of Flew’s performance, see Davis 1989.

4. For a notable Jewish exception to this generalization, see Pinchas Lapide ‘s The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 1983. While Lapide thinks Jesus rose from the dead, he maintains Jewish theism, accounting for the resurrection on distinctly non-Christian terms.

5. While Davis does suggest that the evidence exists which can compel rational supernaturalists to accept the resurrection, his main purpose in Davis 1993 is simply to argue that resurrection-belief is rational — permissively rather than compulsively — from a supernaturalistic perspective (see p.19, particularly n.21).

6. Specifically, Davis plans to defend the resurrection on philosophical, theological and historical grounds. I doubt that it is proper that these things be completely separated when dealing with this issue, but nonetheless it is important to emphasise the historical element in Davis’ apologetic.

7. For a detailed defence of the propriety of argument for religious faith, see Michael C. Banner, The Justification of Science and the Rationality of Religious Belief, (Oxford University Press: New York), 1990, particularly chapters 4 and 5.

8. The relevant details of Jn.20:19-29 are this: the risen Jesus had appeared to the apostles other than Thomas, showing them his wounds; Thomas expressed doubts upon being told of Jesus’ resurrection and not until he was granted his own post-resurrection appearance — complete with poking at Jesus’ wounds with his own hands — was he convinced that Jesus had indeed risen.

9. While Davis appears to be disagreeing with the written words of Jesus on this issue, he is not a biblical-literalist and so cannot be held to insisting that each and every word of the Christian Bible is literally reliable and true. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Davis, when arguing against reductive theories of the resurrection, wrote the following:

In general, it is never easy to prove that when people say one thing, they really (for some arcane reason) mean something else…It seems an exercise in exegetical legerdemain to claim that the New Testament writers did not really mean what they plainly said…” (p.40).

Accordingly, I do not think his advocacy of an attitude toward the resurrection based on Thomas’ conduct in Jn.20:19-29 can involve stretching the meaning of v.29 to fit Davis’ apologetic enterprise.

10. Unfortunately, Davis does not identify this Lukan passage and I am not enough of a New Testament scholar to know it offhand. Its identity, however, is not crucial to my argument.

11. Earlier I stipulated that the resurrection was being interpreted merely as revivification. I should clarify that the revivification at issue here is one brought about by a supernatural, miraculous process.

12. Concerning B2 Davis specifically admits that its suggested facts are “too skimpy” to compel conversion on pain of irrationality (p.169).

13. I do not think it can be argued successfully that this argument is necessarily redundant because it is simply entailed by N1-N4. While D1 and D2 may be taken as evidence confirming the naturalist’s metaphysics, given N1-N4 it is by no means required that these points be true. Granted, there is perhaps a stronger apparent connection between N3 and D3, but there is nothing logically incompatible between N4 and, say, plentiful naturalistic revivals of corpses from death; N3 bars the miraculous, not the possible fantastic advance of medical science.

14. If this were not the case, Davis’ contention that the Christian, but not the naturalist, must provide historical evidence to justify his views as rational would be quite mysterious.

15. Obviously Davis does not think the same person may hold both views — rationally or otherwise — simultaneously.

16. I am using these titles of “hard” and “soft” apologetics in a restricted sense, here, i.e. in the limited context of resurrection-apologetics.

17. While Davis admitted that the discrepancies could be ignored if a deductive case could be made for the resurrection, as previously discussed he does not think this has been done. Habermas does not think his case is demonstrably certain on the basis of incontrovertible evidence, i.e. “apodictically certain”, but he does think it sufficient — viz. “demonstrated by historical standards” — to make the first point of the supernaturalist’s best case unnecessary for successful apologetics (see Habermas 1985, pp.295-296).

18. Habermas simply calls this point “the crucifixion”, but he clearly has these contextual points in mind when arguing for Core Facts or any of its components. I have included the context so as to reinforce the exact nature of what it is that Habermas must show when arguing for the crucifixion.

19. This should not to be mistaken with Christological Mythicism, which considers not only the resurrection of Jesus, but his very existence, to be mythical.

20. Davis suggests that Habermas dismisses naturalism too lightly, exaggerating the deductive validity of his argument (which Davis assumes Habermas requires for a successful hard apologetic) and over simply responds to the naturalistic rejection of miracles.

21. Notably, Davis himself presents an apologetic similar to Habermas’ four-facts Core Facts — a six-fact apologetic that includes reference to Jesus’ empty tomb — which Davis thinks is more than sufficient to enable rational belief in the resurrection when combined with supernaturalistic assumptions (1993, pp.180-181).

22. Davis does mention one recent attempt at naturalistic hypothesis, Schonfield’s The Passover Plot. While Davis describes this book as “bold and entertaining”, he does not think it sufficiently threatening to warrant more than a brief mention (1993, p.16, n.18). He also cites George Eldon Ladd’s I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1975), pp.132-42 as an extended critique of rationalistic counter explanations of the resurrection.

23. I should point out that I have not obtained the Brown article from Commonweal, and so am taking my information here exclusively from Habermas.

24. In Wells 1991 (p.268, n.9), the author mentions in a footnote that many of his theologian critics misunderstand him: he cites Alvar Ellegard, “Jesus, Paul, and Early Christianity”, Lychnos, pp.1-47 (1990) and Martin, on the other hand, as two non-theologians who give a just account of his views. Were Wells to have disapproved of Martin’s abstract, certainly he would have said so here.

25. For example, they might wish to claim that independent confirmation of Jesus’ historicity at T in documents written around T is unnecessary; or perhaps independent confirmation of Jesus’ historicity at T can come from documents written by non-devotees as long as a century later than T. I do not agree with either of these claims, but merely provide them as examples. Nor does it appear likely that Davis would accept such a principle, given that he has argued that important historical events that could be recorded in histories of their times should appear in the histories of their times (1993, p.26).

26. For example, it could be claimed that there is independent confirmation of Jesus’ historicity at T in documents written around T.

27. Whether the conclusion does follow given CF1-CF4, of course, is another question entirely.

28. By “creeds”, Habermas means early Christian verbal expressions of Christian thought that the New Testamentwriters later recorded; he considers this material to be therefore extra-biblical.

29. I have chosen to use Wells’ presentation of Testimonium Flavianum rather than Habermas’ as the latter only provides the following expurgated Josephan text:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats…He was (the) Christ…he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him (p.192).

30. Presumably, Habermas’ version of this text is copied incorrectly from Bruce, stating that Socrates lived on in a stature of Hera and not mentioning Pythagoras’ posthumous fate at all (see Habermas, p.208).

31. He comes closer to specifying the potential range of creedal material in Habermas 1987 when he says in response to challenge from Flew that “…some scholars take the creed as being Chapter 15, verses 3 to 7, but some take the creed as being only verses 3 to 5” (p.85).

32. His comments on Wells in this text seem derived mostly from Habermas 1984, pp.31-36.

33. When I asked Professor Habermas for a transcript of this source — a lecture presented to the Evangelical Theological Society — he mentioned that the bulk of what he said in 1993 could be found in his 1996 text. While significant portions of the spoken lecture are not in the written text, regarding Jesus’ historicity Habermas 1996 covers all this material nearly verbatim.

34. Habermas 1996 actually divides his main objections into five major points, although the first two can easily be combined into one, reducing the count of total objections to four. In Habermas 1984 he appears to make the identical synthesis, presenting only four main objections against Wells (see 1984 pp.32-36). I do not think his later decision to expand the objections from four to five clarifies his position.

35. While recently explaining the Mythicist’s position to someone, I was immediately asked in a pleasant but challenging tone whether I doubted the existence of Mohammed. For Wells’ explanation as to why Mohammed can reasonably be thought a historical person, see 1971, pp.204-211.

36. In chapter four of his 1988 text Wells proposes to date the Gospel of Mark by what it says about persecution and other references in its apocalypse, Mark 13: briefly, Wells argues that the sort of Christian-persecution described in Mark was only sporadic until about AD 90, and the anxiety of Mark 13 makes more sense with a date of composition closer to AD 90 than AD 70.

37. Interestingly, when criticizing Wells for relying too heavily upon pagan parallels to Christianity Habermas also suggested that this dependence was “…a popular thesis late last century, but has been dismissed today by the majority of researchers, and for good reasons” (p.33). The observant reader will notice the similarity in wording between these two dismissals.

Also of interest here is a point made in Wells 1996 within a section entitled “Guidelines for Hostile Writing and Illustrations of Their Use.” In this section Wells describes a variety of cheap manoeuvres used by some of his critics over the years: the third of these is to “Affix distasteful labels to [the person with whom you disagree, ie. Wells], suggesting his adherence to discredited philosophical or other modes” (p.5). Habermas’ repeated identification of strands of Wells’ thesis with discredited arguments of the previous century seems to exemplify this tactic.

38. This is not an omission unique to Habermas 1996. Throughout the years he has appeared confident that other writers have performed this task, and consistently defends his dating of these documents by referring to their conclusions, but not their reasoning.

39. Notably, none of the documents that Wells classifies as early — and which Habermas accepts as predating the gospels — mention Pilate at all, rather blaming the rulers of the age for Jesus’ death. Apart from Mark, the first Christian writers to link Jesus with Pilate were the author of 1Timothy and Ignatius of Antioch: the latter, while on his way to martyrdom around AD 110, wrote an anti-Docetist letter which connects Pilate with Jesus (according to Duling and Perrin, “Modern critics place the period of Ignatius’ letter writing some time between 105 and 135 C.E., probably earlier rather than later” (p.332)); 1 Timothy is one of the pseudepigraphical Pastoral letters, which Duling and Perrin place in the second century AD. According to Raymond E. Brown’s recent (1997) Introduction to the New Testament, those who argue that the Pastorals such as 1 Timothy are pseudepigraphical date them at either AD 80-90, early 2nd century or the last third of that century (p.663). Reasons for doubting Paul wrote the Pastorals include unPauline style and vocabulary; Brown declares that the external evidence slightly favours a date of composition prior to AD 125 and that “…about 80 to 90 percent of modern scholars would agree that the Pastorals were written after Paul’s lifetime, and of those the majority would accept the period between 80 and 100 as the most plausible context for their composition” (p.668). Whatever the precise datings of these documents, it seems reasonably safe to say that neither Ignatius nor the author of 1 Timothy wrote their relevant documents much earlier, if at all, than AD 100. Given the failure of earlier texts to link Jesus with Pilate, it must be wondered why the gospels’ unanimous identification of Pilate as a common culprit indicates that the gospels are close to that culprit’s lifetime.

40. Habermas also makes a general criticism against attributing the origins of orthodox Christian belief to non-Christian sources. While this criticism can apply to both Jewish and pagan traditions, it is essentially the repetition of the claim that there is eyewitness testimony providing historical grounds for some orthodox Christian beliefs contained in 1 Cor.15:3ff. The merit of this claim will be decided in the next section of this chapter, V.2.

41. Notably, there are reasons independent of date that undermine the testimonial reliability of such documents. Consider that the earliest gospel — Mark — is anonymous, written by someone neither Jewish nor familiar with Palestinian geography. Nor was this earliest gospel written for a Jewish audience, as revealed when the author labouriously explains Jewish practices to his readers. Further, some of the sayings Mark attributes to Jesus were obviously not spoken by a historical Palestinian Jesus, such as when Jesus rules that a woman who divorces her husband and remarries commits adultery (Mk.10:12); such an utterance would be meaningless in Palestine where only men could obtain a divorce, but not so meaningless to a later Gentile Christian community in which women could also obtain divorces. Another passage that creates problems for Mark is 7:1-23, where Jesus bases an argument against the Pharisees on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (see Wells 1988, pp.10-15).

42. Wells actually identifies four distinct divisions of New Testament views on the historical person of Jesus (see 1978, p.24), but a rough partition can be made between those texts written prior to the Jewish Revolt and resulting destruction of Jerusalem (the early texts) and those which came after (the later texts).

43. Interestingly, none of the non-Christian sources that I omitted examining (ie. those sources irrelevant to evidencing the crucifixion) manage to pass this criterion, either. By Habermas’ reckoning, the closest case might be Thallus, whom he suggests wrote concerning Jesus’ earthly career in AD 52; however, he admits the case for this dating is so poorly established that Wells’ doubts about Thallus’ usefulness in this regard are “fair” (p.197). This is understatement on Habermas’ part; for Habermas takes his dating of Thallus from F.F. Bruce, who admits his identification of the alleged Christ-evidencing Thallus with a Thallus mentioned by Josephus to have lived in Tiberius’ time around AD 52 is “doubtful” (Bruce, p.30 n.19).

Further, Wells questions whether Josephus even mentions Thallus at all, noting that the Josephan manuscript in question must be modified to yield Thallus’ name:

The unamended reading is given in the Loeb translation and translated there as “there was in addition a certain man of Samaritan origin”…All that Josephus says of this person is that he once loaned a large sum of money to Agrippa; and so, even if the emendation is correct, it is hazardous to identify him with Thallus the historian (1996, p.44).

Finally, there is no extant copy of any document written by Thallus which refers to Jesus. The connection, if any, between Thallus and Jesus comes from Julius Africanus, a third century Christian, who wrote concerning the darkness at the crucifixion that “Thallus says — wrongly it seems to me — that this darkness was an eclipse of the sun” (Wells 1989, p.23). Consequently, even if this Thallus were to have been a writer during AD 52 who referred to a solar eclipse, this cannot be taken seriously as an early independent reference to a historical Jesus.

44. After the destruction of Jerusalem when belief in a historical Jesus of early first century seriously began to develop, it took some time for the dominant view to shift from blaming the Romans to blaming the Jews. Wells notes that examining the gospels in chronological order reveals that Pilate is increasingly exculpated and the Jews increasingly blamed as the text progresses from Mark to John (1975, p.64).

45. Bruce informs his reader that after AD 70, the Sanhedrin reconstituted as a supreme court for organizing Jewish religious law; their work, called the Mishnah, was completed around AD 200. The completed Mishnah itself became an object of study, and a body of commentary developed; the commentary became known as the Gemeras and the Gemeras and Mishnah together comprise the Talmud. Traditions from the Tannaitic period (AD 70-200), called baraithoth, were also preserved in the Gemeras. Bruce identifies Sanhedrin 43a as a baraitha (singular of baraithoth): therefore, Sanhedrin 43a is a tradition originating from between AD 70-200, recorded in a commentary that was begun around AD 200 and completed centuries later (pp.54-55).

46. According to Bruce, in Jewish law bodies were in certain cases hanged after stoning (p.57, n.8), thereby explaining Sanhedrin 43a’s reference to both stoning and hanging. Habermas ignores this information, preferring to speculate as follows:

It is interesting that there is no explanation as to why Jesus was crucified (“hanged”) when stoning was the prescribed punishment. It is likely that the Roman involvement provided the “change of plans,” without specifically being mentioned here (p.204).

Unfortunately, this explanation appears to be nothing more than an attempt to harmonize the Talmudic passage with the orthodox Christian view that Jesus was crucified under Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Considering the overall disharmony between the rabbinic references to Jesus and the New Testament accounts, this manoeuvre does not appear appropriate.

47. Considering Grant’s previously mentioned implication that Wells wields a double standard against Jesus that would not be used with other historical personages (see V.1.a), it might be interesting to analyse the Jewish historical record of Sabbatai Sevi, the seventeenth century Jewish Messianic figure, to note the results of any such comparison.

48. It is of interest here that in Wells 1989 the author argues that Habermas is a good example of an apologist who exaggerates the significance of non-Christian evidences which are thought to pertain to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life (p.22ff).

49. Alternately, Habermas could either argue that some of his non-Christian sources are earlier than I have claimed, or that such sources can be used as independent confirmation of the gospels despite the late dates of their writing. There is some cause to suspect Habermas might take this latter route: after all, within his sufficient non-Christian case for the crucifixion he includes sources that he admits date from mid-to-late second century (see pp.208-215). His gospel dating, therefore, suggests that he thinks acceptable independent confirmation can follow the sources to be confirmed by close to a century or more, although he never defends such an assumption explicitly and Wells would not easily grant such a point. I have briefly argued for the necessity of temporal priority in independent confirmation-documents (see V.2.a), and presently assume this principle prima facie legitimate.

50. In other words, perhaps these other resources can establish the crucifixion provided that the very lack of an adequate non-Christian case for Jesus’ crucifixion does not constitute a serious, unanswerable anomaly for belief in Jesus’ historical crucifixion. I think this avenue of investigation has some possibilities, but will not explore it here.

51. Wells himself accepts that vv.3b-4 are a pre-Pauline creed. Robert Price, however, has recently presented a brave argument that vv.3-11 are a later, post-Pauline interpolation (“Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 As a Post-Pauline Interpolation”, The Journal of Higher Criticism, V.2(2), 1995). Interestingly, Habermas provides a number of reasons for considering some vague unspecified portion of 1 Cor.15:3ff as non-Pauline (and he infers therefore pre-Pauline): one of these reasons, if correct, indicates that Paul’s own account of his own encounter with a risen Jesus (v.8) utilizes non-Pauline language (see pp.153-154). While it is very implausible that Paul would have recorded someone else’s account of his own encounter with Jesus, it is not so strange that an interpolator would describe Paul’s encounter with Jesus in non-Pauline language.

52. Some will no doubt be tempted to argue that Paul must have had a relatively brief period of time in mind when, after proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, he states “…and that he appeared to…” and continues on with a list of appearances, some if not all of which are clearly to Paul’s contemporaries. Yet, consider vv.5-8:

5. and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

6. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

7. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Even on Habermas’ view, this last appearance occurred some years after Jesus’ resurrection. Of course, Habermas takes this inference from text outside of 1 Cor.15:3ff, for such an assumption cannot be made from merely examining vv.5-8. Accordingly, if the context of vv.5-8 does not specifically suggest how long after the resurrection this appearance occurred — save that it came last — it is not clear why the earlier appearances should be considered close to the events of vv.3b-4 without independent corroboration.

53. Unfortunately, Habermas does not identify from where he takes his information; the 1978 article which he seems to rely on so heavily for his information about Wells mentions the matter of James’ relationship with Jesus only to note that it had been treated in Wells 1971 and Wells 1975. 1988 devotes an entire chapter to the subject of Jesus’ alleged earthly family (chapter 8).

54. For whatever reason, Habermas neglects to mention an important point emphasized by both Martin and Wells, namely that in addition to factions favouring Paul, Apollos and Peter there was also a Christ-faction at Corinth.

55. Some scholars have viewed the Josephan statement, “the brother of Jesus, him called Christ”, as interpolated. Wells sees in these words the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. He suggests Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who, according to Christian tradition, led the Jerusalem Church about the time in question. This reader would have, necessarily, had access to most if not all of the gospels and if he had noted in the margin “James = the brother of Jesus, him called Christ” based upon Mt.1:16 — “Jesus, him called Christ” — then a later copying could have incorporated this into the text. Wells argues this is precisely the way in which other interpolations were generated (1975, p.11).

56. According to Matthew it was Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (28:1); John mentions only Mary Magdalene (20:11ff).

57. It might be suggested that the rational presumption of S5 — rather vaguely conceived by Davis — contains elements that enable B1 and B2 to sufficiently rebut Mythicism. By way of quick response, I suggest that an interpretation of S5 that was sufficient, if granted as rational, to enable B1 and B2 to overcome the Mythicist’s objections would very quickly have its rational status called into question by the Mythicist.

58. For an interesting presentation of an externalist defence of resurrection-belief, see C. Stephen Evans’ The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith (Oxford University Press: New York), 1996.

59. Interestingly, Davis’ autobiographical comments suggest his faith is primarily defended with private evidence (see “Passing the Baton”, Philosophers Who Believe, ed. Clark, Kelly, pp.105-125).

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