Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 1

 

Paul claimed that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then the preaching of the gospel is without foundation, and our faith is in vain.  So it makes sense that critics of the Christian faith would attack the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We will spend the next few weeks making sure that we know how to give a reasonable defense to some of the common attacks against the resurrection account. First, let us look at the challenges against the New Testament accounts of the resurrection as articulated by a Muslim apologist.

Abdullah Kareem, like many others, claim that the resurrection is a developmental legend, rather than a true historical event.  

The following is a quote from Abdullah’s website: http://www.answering christianity.com/abdullah_smith/the_resurrection_hoax

The resurrection of Jesus is a hoax because Mark, the earliest gospel, never contained the story. The “resurrection” passages were later added to Mark, and his gospel was changed by Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers are anonymous. It was necessary for Matthew and Luke to change Mark according to their own understanding, they also relied upon the Q source. Regarding the Gospel of John, it’s completely different and draws upon ambiguous sources. The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both of these Greek manuscripts have no ending for Mark! …

This means the Gospel writers fabricated the resurrection story. The legend of Jesus’ “resurrection” developed over a period of time. This explains why Paul, the earliest Christian writer, never records the Gospel version. Paul only says Jesus was “crucified for the sins of mankind” and he “rose from the dead”, which does not explain anything.

Abdullah raises three common issues used to discredit the gospel testimonies of Jesus.  Christians must know what to say in response to these claims.  The next three blogs will examine these common attacks against the resurrection:

CLAIM 1:  The oldest versions of Mark’s gospel do not give an account of the resurrection. 

CLAIM 2:  Matthew and Luke relied on the “Q” Source to write their gospels and to change Mark’s gospel to make it match their accounts of the resurrection.

CLAIM 3:  Paul’s account of the resurrection does not match the gospel accounts.

PART 1:  The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.

Abdullah is absolutely correct that some of the oldest copies of Mark do not contain the last 12 verses recorded in most Bibles, at least of those that have been found.  If you look in your Bible, you probably have a footnote telling you this.  You can go to www.biblegateway.com and look at Mark 16 in different versions.  Many versions will tell you that verses 9-20 are questionable.  For example, the English Standard Version says:

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.][a]

Mark 16: 9-20 is what is called a textual variant.  This passage varies from manuscript to manuscript.  It is actually one of the largest textual variants in the New  Testament.  (See my previous 3-part blog series to find out how significant textual variants of the New Testament really are.)

In April 2007 a group of New Testament scholars met at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest for a conference called “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not.”  Four scholars presented papers, each with a particular viewpoint on Mark 16: 9-20.  Each of these scholars believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary presented the position that Mark ended his gospel with verse 8. Dr. Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Seminary presented the “Byzantine Priority” viewpoint that Mark 16: 9-20 is original. Dr. J.K. Elliott, Professor of NT Textual Criticism, University of Leeds, argued that the original ending of Mark has been lost. Dr. David Alan Black of Southeastern Baptist Seminary defended the position that Mark added those last 12 verses to finish off Peter’s lectures, believing Mark to have recorded Peter’s lectures as the gospel of Mark.

My point is this:  Christians ought not discredit their position by not being forthright about the 1% of textual variants in the New Testament that are not spelling or grammatical errors.  There are a few passages, like Mark 16: 9-20, that are debated, even among conservative, Bible-believing New Testament scholars.

My other point is this:  Even if Mark 16: 9-20 is not original, it does not affect the historicity of the resurrection. In fact, none of the important textual variants affect a single significant doctrine!  Abdullah’s claim that Mark did not contain the resurrection story is not true.  Mark 16: 1-8 is in the oldest manuscripts.  As the stained-glass picture above states, even in the first 8 verses of Mark 16 we see the resurrection recorded.

Mark 16

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Resurrection

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Notice that this passage clearly says that Jesus has risen.  This is not a story found only in the last 12 verses of Mark; it is not a story developed over the years as a legend.  It is right here in the undisputed section of Mark’s gospel.

What is found in the last 12 verses of Mark are the post-mortem appearances of Jesus and the ascension of Christ, which can be found elsewhere in New Testament documents. Bart Ehrman claims that we will not know whether to practice snake handling or not if we do not know if the ending of Mark is original. Mark 16:18 does say that believers will not be harmed if they pick up serpents or drink poison, but it is not ordained as a church practice here or elsewhere.  We do have the example of a snake attaching itself to Paul while he was building a fire, and we know Paul was unharmed.  But Paul did not handle the snake as a ritual to prove God’s faithfulness.  In fact, Christ clearly taught us, in His temptation, that we are not to put God to the test, exemplified when He refused to jump off the pinacle at Satan’s taunting.

Interestingly, Daniel Wallace revealed in 2012 that a first century copy of Mark may have been recently discovered. A new carbon dating method that does not destroy the manuscript can now be utilized to determine the date of these old manuscripts.  You can read more about this new discovery here. Textual criticism is very much alive. Hopefully this new discovery will settle the question about Mark 16:9-20.  But even so, that would not change what we already know ~ that Christ is risen from the dead.

He is risen indeed!

~ Betsy McPeak

 

3 comments to Can you defend the Resurrection? – Part 1

  • There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the evidence pertaining to the end of the Gospel of Mark; even in the book that you mentioned, for example, Dr. Wallace made several incorrect statements. I have looked into the question about Mark 16:9-20 in detail, and my conclusion is that these 12 verses were part of the original text. You are welcome to contact me for additional resources about this; in the meantime I welcome you to read the multi-part presentation that begins at
    http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/MarkOne.html , and the video-lectures about this that I have made available at YouTube.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Indiana

  • Betsy McPeak

    Dear James,

    Thank you so much for your comment and the link you provided. I will check it out.

    However ~ whether or not Mark 16:9-20 is original was not my point and I don’t claim to know who is correct on that matter. I’m trying to equip lay people to defend their faith. In this case, I tried to show that Bible believing scholars, which includes Dr. Wallace, have varying viewpoints on the ending of Mark’s gospel. I did not claim that Wallace was correct. I am not a Biblical scholar. I merely pointed out that the attack on the resurrection based on the last 12 verses of Mark not being original is a flawed argument. You don’t even have to know whether Mark 16:9-20 is original or not to know that the non-disputed verses in Mark clearly record that Christ had risen and was no longer in the tomb.

    Thanks again for your comment.

    Sincerely,
    Betsy McPeak

  • (3) The judgment according to St. Paul as according to the Synoptics , is closely connected with the parousia and the resurrection . They are the three acts of the same drama which constitute the Day of the Lord ( 1 Corinthians 1:8 ; 2 Corinthians 1:14 ; Philippians 1:6, 10 ; 2:16 ). “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ , that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil ” ( 2 Corinthians 5:10 ).

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