Did Jesus Rise Physically From the Dead? A Debate Review
The recent debate between Dr. Abel Pienaar (www.spiritualiteit.co.za) and Dr. Mike Licona (www.risenjesus.com) in the Sanlam Auditorium at the University of Pretoria was a good-natured and instructive exchange of different views on the question of whether Jesus rose physically from the dead. (Despite one reviewer’s asinine remarks about how Licona started off with “shenanigans”, attempts to “butter” the audience and “establish some initial advantage and favour” (see http://www.nuwe-hervorming.org.za/forum/hitch-without-bark-much-stronger-bite [link broken]), I personally really appreciated to see Licona showing up wearing a Springbok jersey in solidarity with South African supporters during the Rugby World Cup.)
Pienaar and Licona approached the question of Jesus’ resurrection from two very different perspectives (as was expected). Licona approached the purported events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus as any responsible historian would when examining any ancient documents to determine its historical authenticity. He first pointed to four historical facts derived from the letters written by the apostle Paul and about which there exists scholarly consensus (which would include those of a sceptical and liberal bent), and then also adding a fifth, which some scholars might have reason to doubt. He then showed, by applying historical method, how these facts lead to an inference of the best explanation, that is, why any reasonable person can accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a real historical event. The implication was that all competing and naturalistic hypotheses have thus far failed to account for all the relevant and uncontested historical facts derived from, in this case, Paul’s letters (which seem not to suffer from some of the same difficulties that sceptical scholars find with the Gospel accounts, such as dating, authorship, bias, etc.).
Pienaar presented his case in a very capable manner (despite his self-deprecating misgivings prior to the debate – see http://blogs.litnet.co.za/
Another argument that Pienaar used was the idea that the Bible is full of mythological events such as “donkeys talking, people walking on water, virgin births and gods who could rise from the dead and live in the heavens.” He believes these references originated in a pre-scientific worldview where, presumably, people were simply so superstitious, ignorant and gullible that they thought and wrote as they understood reality from their pre-scientific point of view. Pienaar also thinks that one can find parallels to Jesus’ life in mythological figures such as Dionysus, Osiris, Hercules and even Thor, which casts further doubt on the historical reliability of the reported miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ life and resurrection. Licona challenged him on this widely held assumption about the validity of such parallelism and what it would signify, for when examined closely it does not find support among most serious scholars of history.
It was interesting to me that Pienaar expressed reservations in his pre-debate comments (http://blogs.litnet.co.za/
Well, let’s give Pienaar the benefit of the doubt, for we all have our biases and shortcomings. And that is why I strongly suspect that when Percy Shelley asks (as Pienaar quoted him on his blog as well as in the debate), “If God has spoken, why is the world not convinced?”, that the problem is not with the God who might have spoken, but simply with persons like me and you in this world who often do not really care to listen.
– Udo Karsten