Over the weekend I had a serious conversation about the Resurrection of Jesus in the last place I’d expect – a satire website!
That’s right – in a Babylon Bee post from Saturday, I wrote a comment that received quite a bit of attention.
The post? “Millions Worldwide Cling To Faith That Jesus’s Resurrection Was Elaborate Hoax”
The comment? “People in the first century were just dumb, superstitious peasants, which is why they were smart enough to make a story up that would deceive millions for centuries to come.”
The point of making this comment was to make fun of an assumption commonly made by Atheists (it is a satire site, after all!). But in response to that comment, someone asked a serious question – “Isn’t that how you feel about other religions though?” I understood that this question touched on my potential bias towards Christianity, but I didn’t know what part of my comment the question was referring to.
In normal, face-to-face conversations, I would ask for some clarification about the question. But in an online environment, I had no idea if I would hear from this responder again. Thus I thought that instead of asking a follow up question, it would be best to clarify what exactly my post was about.
I responded as follows:
“My comment was a satire specifically about the view that people today are more advanced and intelligent than people in ancient history. People who hold this view typically downplay the ability for people in ancient history to know what is true and to express that truth to others (such as through writing).
People who hold both this view and the view that the resurrection was made up seem to have conflicting views. They downplay the intelligence of whoever made the resurrection story up, yet affirm that they had the intelligence to deceive others in a Jewish context where it would be difficult to do so. That’s why my comment applies specifically to Christianity.
As far as the view that people in ancient history are not as intelligent goes, people could also use that view to object to other religions and their origins.”
I also invited the responder to my Apologetics group Twin Cities Apologetics. If there was a chance that doing so could lead to a long-term conversation with the responder, then extending the invite was worth it to me.
A few other people responded to my comment, and one person in particular brought up the claim that 500 people saw Jesus after his resurrection at one time. After a few of these responses, the original responder came back with more questions:
“oh I see haha. Well, I have no doubt that people today are just as gullible about fake news as they were back then. As to the “500 eyewitnesses,” that’s hearsay from Paul. Unless we have some names, signed statements, etc… he could have just pulled that number out of a hat. After all, who in the early church would challenge Paul on that? And even if someone did, why should we think it would be recorded in the Bible?”
I knew that these comments and questions would require a pretty detailed response. In my response, I decided to hone in on one phrase – “hearsay from Paul”. I could have asked what was meant by “hearsay”, but again, this comment may be my last chance to get the responder or other people thinking!
Here’s what I wrote in response:
“I understand your point about gullibility. One difference I would note in that parallel is that today, a “fake news” story is one that shows up one day and is easily forgotten the next without much lasting effect. The resurrection, however, was a story that had far-reaching and lasting impact on people who believed it. There would be more reason for them to make sure that this thing that has now become their focus in life is grounded in truth.
I didn’t bring up the “500 eyewitnesses”, but I’ll talk about it anyway since you brought it up at the same time. To do so, I’ll explain why I question the idea that the 500 people claim is “hearsay from Paul”.
The 500 witnesses claim comes from the passage 1 Corinthians 15:1-7. There are good reasons to think that Paul received the information in this passage from eyewitness of the events at a time earlier than when he wrote it (which was 20-25 years after Jesus’ death).
One reason to think this is eyewitness material is that it appears to be in the format of a creed, or a basic set of beliefs held by the early church, which I won’t expand further on right now. Another reason is that Paul says he received the information in verse 3, which means the passing of that information must have come at an earlier time. One other reason is that in Galatians 1:18-20, Paul said that he visited a couple early church leaders (Peter and James) about 3-5 years after the death of Jesus, and it’s safe to assume that they would have discussed the events of Jesus (such as given in the 1 Corinthians passage) at this time.
So let’s go back to your phrase. With the word “hearsay”, the word could mean different things, but I’ll assume that you mean a “rumor”, or as one definition says, “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate”. Considering the information about the 500 can be traced back to eyewitnesses, at the very least I think we can say that there is some substance behind the claim, in which case it is not “hearsay”. With the part about it being “from Paul”, the evidence indicates that the information did not come from Paul, but from an earlier source.
And even if the 500 witnesses can’t be substantiated, in 1 Corinthians 15 we still have other claims of Jesus appearing to key people, including James the previously skeptical brother of Jesus, as well as Peter.
And one quick consideration about your point about the Bible not documenting challenges to the claim about the 500 people – The New Testament is not void of discussion about opposition to the claims of Christianity. In Galatians 1:6, for example, Paul talks about people who are preaching a false gospel.
That’s a lot of explanation for what started as a satire snippet, but I think it’s worth diving deep into these important topics! Thank you for your good and challenging questions thus far.”
Since I have not yet received a response back, I’m guessing the conversation is over.
I have a few motivations for sharing this conversation with you. One is a bit selfish – I took the time to write out these responses, so why not use them again? But another is to make a few observations about how to navigate online spiritual discussions.
From this online discussion, I pull the following observations:
- In a public online post, you are not only writing to the person you’re in discussion with, but also to other people who may read the discussion!
- If there is opportunity to build a relationship with the person you’re talking to, go for it! Building that relationship is more important than scoring quick points in an online debate.
- For Christians, it’s important to be courteous and respectful in these kinds of discussions so that we can reflect the character of Christ to others, especially in light of observation #1.
- Asking clarifying questions may not be the best route to take if there are only a few opportunities to respond. It may be better to make assumptions, explain those assumptions, and write a response with the assumptions in order to give others something to think about. The person you’re talking to can still add clarification if your assumptions are incorrect.
Is it suddenly my calling to have serious discussions on satire websites? Probably not. But at the very least, this discussion gave me practical experience and some observations that will certainly help with future online discussions.