The best debate I’ve seen on the Resurrection of Jesus

A few hours ago, I watched an online debate between acclaimed New Testament scholar and historian Professor Bart Ehrman and evangelical scholar Justin Bass, who is Professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. Dr. Bass, who now lives in Jordan, is also the author of “The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection” (Lexham Press, 2020).

The debate, hosted by Justin Brierley of Premier Unbelievable, was a spirited one, in which Ehrman and Bass went at each other hammer and tongs. At the same time, the tone of the debate was scholarly, and Justin Brierley did an excellent job of keeping it civil. Personally, I thought that both sides presented their case very well, and that it was the best debate I’ve ever seen on Jesus’ resurrection. My personal opinion is that Bart Ehrman clearly won the debate on historical grounds, but that a Christian viewer might find Justin Bass’s arguments convincing, on theological grounds. Without further ado, here it is. Happy Easter!

28 thoughts on “The best debate I’ve seen on the Resurrection of Jesus

  1. . My personal opinion is that on Bart Ehrman clearly won the debate on historical grounds, but that a Christian viewer might find Justin Bass’s arguments convincing, on theological grounds. Without further ado, here it is. Happy Easter!

    Hi Vincent

    I think your demarkation is correct in the sense that Erhman’s argument requires him to argue under the restriction of historical criteria. Very much like evolutionists need to argue under the restriction of scientific criteria.

    Where do you think the shroud of Turin and the sudarium or Oviedo stand as potential support for the historic argument for the resurrection?

  2. My personal opinion is that on Bart Ehrman clearly won the debate on historical grounds, but that a Christian viewer might find Justin Bass’s arguments convincing, on theological grounds.

    I’d like to know exactly what you mean by “theological grounds”. As far as I can tell, actual historical grounds in general don’t exist. The only source anyone has are the gospels, and the gospels’ accounts of the resurrection contradict one another in dozens of ways.

    The debate essentially rests on the strength of one’s belief in one or another of the resurrection tales.

  3. colewd: Where do you think the shroud of Turin and the sudarium or Oviedo stand as potential support for the historic argument for the resurrection?

    I don’t understand this.

    The shroud of Turin is very likely a fake. But even if it were real, it would not provide any evidence of the resurrection. And much the same can be said about the sudarium.

  4. Neil Rickert,

    The shroud of Turin is very likely a fake. But even if it were real, it would not provide any evidence of the resurrection. And much the same can be said about the sudarium.

    The shroud and sudarium are most likely real if you look at all the evidence and not just the carbon dating that may have tested the repaired portion of cloth. Cotton was found in one of test samples. Other non intrusive dating methods have supported a first century origin.

    Science currently has no consensus explanation for the origin of the image.

    The origin of the image itself not having an explanation despite years of investigation suggests a Devine event may have occurred and is support for the authenticity of the gospels as being historically accurate.

    Gospel of John: 20

    Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.

  5. colewd:
    Neil Rickert,

    The shroud and sudarium are most likely real if you look at all the evidence and not just the carbon dating that may have tested the repaired portion of cloth. Cotton was found in one of test samples.Other non intrusive dating methods have supported a first century origin.

    This is false. Carbon dating is the only reasonably accurate method applied, and it’s special pleading to claim that, well, the carbon dating idiots must have dated a more recent part of the shroud.

    Science currently has no consensus explanation for the origin of the image.

    Yes, science does, but you have tried to explain it away. However, historians also have an explanation. They point to the plethora of religious (especially resurrection-related) artifacts produced by artisans at around the time the carbon dating indicates. As such, the shroud of Turin isn’t even a very good fake. It’s also worth noting that the Church has refused to allow any other part of the shroud to be carbon dated. For some reason…

    The origin of the image itself not having an explanation despite years of investigation suggests a Devine event may have occurred and is support for the authenticity of the gospels as being historically accurate.

    Gospel of John: 20

    Even Christian biblical scholars accept that the gospels are fiction, written by anonymous people (history at that time always included the author), without citing a single source (history at that time always cited sources), and without any external corroborating evidence. (It’s accepted that an enormous amount was written during the first century, which coincidentally was not preserved by the Church – a Church which would have been ecstatic at the opportunity to preserve corroborating evidence, and equally determined not to preserve conflicting materials…)

    So we have a rather inept fake, carbon dated to a time when such fakes were commonly produced and sold, being used to “authenticate” equally partisan and inauthentic writings. We also have a True Believer making gullible an art form.

  6. Hi Vincent. Thanks for sharing this at this appropriate time. And a happy Easter to you and all who are reading this.

    I have a question or two concerning the fact that both Ehrman and Bass seem to agree that the resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event that has broken the laws of physics. Ehrman claims that Jesus raising violates the laws of nature the laws of mathematics and the laws of physics. He doesn’t believe in the resurrection because it violates the laws of physics, and he claims this has never been violated in 13.8 billion years. Bass seems to agree that they have never been violated with the exception of Jesus.

    In what way does this event break the laws of physics and which laws are being broken? I’d like to throw this open to anyone who can provide some answers.

  7. I think Bass is fighting a lost cause and Ehrman is right in stressing the point that he is using theological arguments to try to justify historical claims. The Gospels are not historical documents and I don’t believe they were ever meant to be historical accounts.

    But neither do I think Ehrman’s arguments are free from error.

    In arguing against the resurrection, Ehrman invokes the 2nd law of thermodynamics and gives an example of stirring cream into coffee. We will never see the two substances suddenly separating in the cup.

    What he leaves out here is intention of the person. The person stirs the coffee with the intention mixing. But the acts of thinking humans produce results that go in the opposite direction to entropy. Also, living beings consist of localized processes which flow in opposition to entropy.

    When minds are involved the system is open to manipulation. He cannot use entropy as an argument against the resurrection.

  8. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM,

    You can’t unstir the coffee.

    And neither would I want to. If I did feel so inclined I could put it through various filters, I could centrifuge it or distill it. But what I usually do is drink it and leave all that to my bodily processes. 🙂

    Even with all these ways of separating individual factors, I’ll never get it back to the original state of black coffee and cream, but who cares?!

  9. Yes, science does, but you have tried to explain it away. However, historians also have an explanation. They point to the plethora of religious (especially resurrection-related) artifacts produced by artisans at around the time the carbon dating indicates. As such, the shroud of Turin isn’t even a very good fake. It’s also worth noting that the Church has refused to allow any other part of the shroud to be carbon dated. For some reason…

    How do you explain the origin of the image? This Ted talk is from one of the original (photography) members of the research team.

  10. CharlieM,

    In arguing against the resurrection, Ehrman invokes the 2nd law of thermodynamics and gives an example of stirring cream into coffee. We will never see the two substances suddenly separating in the cup

    When I first listened to Erhman when I was exploring the credibility of Christianity “the resurrection cannot be historic” was the claim that he was basing his overall argument on. The idea that the creator of the universe, matter and life cannot repair life is absurd.

    Arguing the demarkation of theology or history is ducking the real issue of whether the resurrection is true.

  11. colewd: Arguing the demarkation (sic) of theology or history is ducking the real issue of whether the resurrection is true.

    Bart Ehrman kept his cool very well on the whole, I thought, enduring constant interruptions from Bass.

    The point Ehrman makes about miracles entailing violations of the laws of physics is damning.

  12. Alan Fox,

    The point Ehrman makes about miracles entailing violations of the laws of physics is damning.

    Damning to his overall argument as it is based on an unsupportable claim outside his area of expertise.

    A miracle is simply something that happens that we cannot currently explain.

    God could have used the laws of physics and an information rich (organized particles) energy pulse to bring Jesus back to life.

    Now do you want to take a shot at explaining the origin of the Turin shrouds image 🙂

  13. Hi Charlie M.,

    In what way does this event break the laws of physics and which laws are being broken?

    Interesting question. I note for the record that the New Testament is quite clear that Jesus died. However, the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:31) explicitly states that Jesus’ body did not experience decay. If that were indeed the case, as most Christians believe, then there would not have been any violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as such: Jesus’ dead brain did not have to unscramble itself when he came back to life. (Of course, this scenario still requires us to believe that God kept a dead person’s brain and body intact for 48 hours, without any decomposition taking place, which in the ordinary course of events is a fantastically improbable occurrence.)

    Ehrman’s argument against the resurrection of Jesus assumes that the laws of logic are comparable to the laws of physics, but that’s only true if the laws of physics describe essential properties of the entities they apply to – in which case, a violation of these laws would be as impossible as a square circle. With the second law of thermodynamics, we have to ask: what is the entity it applies to? One might answer: a closed system. In reality, however, no system is perfectly closed, although some systems are very good approximations. Perhaps one might say that the cosmos itself is a closed system. That sounds reasonable: you could say that it’s part of the warp and woof of the cosmos that it tends towards less improbable states (i.e. greater entropy) as time progresses. However, that formulation doesn’t rule out a resurrection, any more than it rules out abiogenesis, although it does necessitate energy flows in and out of Jesus’ tomb to counter the downhill trend that dead bodies are normally prone to.

    What I find most problematic about the resurrection, from a scientific standpoint, is where Jesus’ body went, after the resurrection, and what it’s supposed to be composed of. As to where it went: the Gospels seem to imply that it zipped in and out of space-time, allowing Jesus to materialize inside a room with locked doors. That raises conservation of energy problems. The conservation of energy is a consequence of the basic fact about our cosmos, that a physical process exhibits the same outcomes regardless of time, which means that its Lagrangian function is symmetric under continuous translation in time (Noether’s first theorem). Perhaps there’s a way for a resurrected body to exit the cosmos without it losing any energy in the process; I don’t know.

    The other troublesome question relates to whether Jesus’ resurrected body is composed of atoms [which are destructible, meaning that Jesus was not immortal after all] or “schmatoms” [which have no causal powers over material atoms, making them impossible to be seen and touched, as the Gospels record Jesus’ resurrected body was] (Cavin and Colombetti). Many years ago, I suggested a third alternative: glatoms, or glorified atoms, which have causal powers over atoms, but not vice versa. Upon reflection, I’m no longer satisfied with that view. Would it have been impossible for Mary Magdalene to lift the hand of the risen Jesus, for instance? And what would have happened if he’d sat at one end of a see-saw, while Peter sat at the other? And did Jesus’ weight increase after eating fish? One thing’s for sure: there is no simple answer to any of these questions. Perhaps the physics of our cosmos is just a small subset of a larger physics describing the entire ensemble of universes God has created, and Jesus’ risen body transcends the limitations of our cosmos. But I don’t know.

  14. The article you cite is twelve years old. You might like to have a look at this article, which carefully examines the claims and counter-claims (see the updates at the end). Cheers.

    Hi Vincent
    Thanks for posting this.

    It looks to me like NBC is selling against authenticity as their source appears to be making dubious claims the most egregious of which is the last word in the article.

    http://arathersillyblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/joe-nickel-cmon-guy.html?m=1

  15. Alan Fox,

    An example?

    A laptop computer found in the 18th century. This would be considered a miracle then but not now.

  16. colewd: CharlieM,

    In arguing against the resurrection, Ehrman invokes the 2nd law of thermodynamics and gives an example of stirring cream into coffee. We will never see the two substances suddenly separating in the cup

    When I first listened to Erhman when I was exploring the credibility of Christianity “the resurrection cannot be historic” was the claim that he was basing his overall argument on. The idea that the creator of the universe, matter and life cannot repair life is absurd.

    Arguing the demarkation of theology or history is ducking the real issue of whether the resurrection is true.

    Good point. If those who think that the story of the incarnation of Christ and the events following His crucifixion are pure fiction why do they expend so much effort in studying it?

    Excerpts from The Gospel of St. Mark, Lecture 10 by Rudolf Steiner. ( I leave it up to the individual whether or not they want to read this)

    Steiner: … the possibility was lost of understanding that the Christ could have lived within the man Jesus of Nazareth; and the more the eighteenth century wore on the more any idea at all of the Christ was lost. Attention was directed more and more toward Jesus of Nazareth, who must have been born in Nazareth or somewhere else, who lived like a man, doing nothing but proclaim fine principles and in some way or another may have died the death of a martyr. More and more the man Jesus replaced the Christ Jesus of earlier centuries. This, from the point of view of materialism, was a self-evident fact.

    It was also entirely natural that in the course of the nineteenth century there should have developed what may be called “research into the life of Jesus.” Enlightened theology also carries out research into the life of Jesus, that is to say, it tries to establish the facts about Jesus of Nazareth in just the same way as facts are established about Charlemagne, Otto the Great and similar personalities. However, it is very difficult to establish the facts about Jesus of Nazareth. In the first place all the principal documents that must come under consideration are the Gospels and the Pauline letters. But it is obvious that documents such as the Gospels cannot be counted as historical. There are four Gospels and from the external materialistic point of view they all contradict each other. All kinds of ways out of this dilemma have been sought in the course of “research into the life of Jesus.” A certain phase of this research can first of all be disregarded. Because this research fell into the materialistic period there was no longer any desire to believe in miracles…

    …There was also a period when during this “research into the life of Jesus” it was supposed that Jesus of Nazareth was a superior human being, something not unlike a higher Socrates, higher in the sense attributed to that word by materialists.

    Such was the kind of research into the life of Jesus of Nazareth whose principal aim was to create a biography of Jesus. However, such an effort was bound to give rise to criticism, especially on two counts, in the first place because of the documents themselves; for the Gospels are not documents at all in the sense that one speaks of historical documents, as they are evaluated by historians. This is primarily due to the many contradictions to be found in them and the way in which they have been preserved…

    …The crucial point is the tremendous effect that emanates from that being with whom the Mystery of Golgotha is linked. If the whole thing is a fiction, then this materialistic age should agree to cease to look at it as soon as possible, for a materialistic age cannot believe in a “fiction” that is supposed nevertheless to have fulfilled the most important mission of all time! Yes, our enlightened age has surely been successful in accumulating contradictions, and is scarcely aware how much it is in need, just in the scientific field, of the saying, “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This indeed is equally applicable to all current research regarding Jesus and Christ which has no wish to place itself in a serious and dignified way on a spiritual base.

    Steiner regarded the “Mystery of Golgotha” a great initiation process in like manner to the processes carried out by the ancient mystery cults, only this was being carried out on the world stage. Hence his book Christianity as Mystical Fact. Jesus was seen to be betraying the closely guarded secrets of these cults and this was the reason for such violent opposition to his teachings.

    By this reading, the composers of the Gospels are telling the story of this great initiation from their own perspectives. This does not mean that they were present at the actual events.

  17. CharlieM,

    More and more the man Jesus replaced the Christ Jesus of earlier centuries. This, from the point of view of materialism, was a self-evident fact.

    This is very true. The Judea Christian God is a very big concept and takes lots of deep thought around observable evidence to conceptualize. The evidence I would argue is both historical and theological.

    The universe with observers is also a very big concept and is exceeding difficult to explain without an intelligent Creator.

  18. vjtorley:
    CharlieM: In what way does this event break the laws of physics and which laws are being broken?

    vjtorley: Interesting question. I note for the record that the New Testament is quite clear that Jesus died. However, the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:31) explicitly states that Jesus’ body did not experience decay. If that were indeed the case, as most Christians believe, then there would not have been any violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as such: Jesus’ dead brain did not have to unscramble itself when he came back to life. (Of course, this scenario still requires us to believe that God kept a dead person’s brain and body intact for 48 hours, without any decomposition taking place, which in the ordinary course of events is a fantastically improbable occurrence.)

    Some of my beliefs on our relationship to our bodies can be found in this thread.

    Here it is proposed that the lower factors of our makeup are physical body, etheric or formative force ‘body’, and astral ‘body’. And the task of the ego is to transform these lower factors. The astral is the seat of the feelings and emotions, and I am having some very limited effect in their transformation. But it is much more difficult to transform the etheric ‘body’ and even more so the physical body.

    By my understanding Christ is the possessor of a Higher Ego and so is quite capable of transforming all three lower factors. Thus the Easter event would result in the transformation of the physical body. So it would have been transformed rather than becoming decomposed. A precursor to this transformation can be read in the story of Jesus Christ’s transfiguration.

    vjtorley: Ehrman’s argument against the resurrection of Jesus assumes that the laws of logic are comparable to the laws of physics, but that’s only true if the laws of physics describe essential properties of the entities they apply to – in which case, a violation of these laws would be as impossible as a square circle. With the second law of thermodynamics, we have to ask: what is the entity it applies to? One might answer: a closed system. In reality, however, no system is perfectly closed, although some systems are very good approximations. Perhaps one might say that the cosmos itself is a closed system. That sounds reasonable: you could say that it’s part of the warp and woof of the cosmos that it tends towards less improbable states (i.e. greater entropy) as time progresses. However, that formulation doesn’t rule out a resurrection, any more than it rules out abiogenesis, although it does necessitate energy flows in and out of Jesus’ tomb to counter the downhill trend that dead bodies are normally prone to.

    What I find most problematic about the resurrection, from a scientific standpoint, is where Jesus’ body went, after the resurrection, and what it’s supposed to be composed of. As to where it went: the Gospels seem to imply that it zipped in and out of space-time, allowing Jesus to materialize inside a room with locked doors. That raises conservation of energy problems. The conservation of energy is a consequence of the basic fact about our cosmos, that a physical process exhibits the same outcomes regardless of time, which means that its Lagrangian function is symmetric under continuous translation in time (Noether’s first theorem). Perhaps there’s a way for a resurrected body to exit the cosmos without it losing any energy in the process; I don’t know.

    I don’t think the conservation of energy applies to the cosmos as a whole.

    According to Steiner, the body disappeared into the earth during the earthquake recorded in Matthew. The details of what is supposed to have transpired after the crucifixion is far beyond my understanding, and I feel a bit uneasy speculating on this subject.

    vjtorley: The other troublesome question relates to whether Jesus’ resurrected body is composed of atoms [which are destructible, meaning that Jesus was not immortal after all] or “schmatoms” [which have no causal powers over material atoms, making them impossible to be seen and touched, as the Gospels record Jesus’ resurrected body was] (Cavin and Colombetti). Many years ago, I suggested a third alternative: glatoms, or glorified atoms, which have causal powers over atoms, but not vice versa. Upon reflection, I’m no longer satisfied with that view. Would it have been impossible for Mary Magdalene to lift the hand of the risen Jesus, for instance? And what would have happened if he’d sat at one end of a see-saw, while Peter sat at the other? And did Jesus’ weight increase after eating fish? One thing’s for sure: there is no simple answer to any of these questions. Perhaps the physics of our cosmos is just a small subset of a larger physics describing the entire ensemble of universes God has created, and Jesus’ risen body transcends the limitations of our cosmos. But I don’t know.

    One perspective on the human body that I find worthy of consideration is that it is not primarily a collection of atoms. These make only a transient appearance on their passage through it. In essence it consists of form and not the material.

  19. colewd to vjtorley: Where do you think the shroud of Turin and the sudarium or Oviedo stand as potential support for the historic argument for the resurrection?

    I think that’s a very good question and its worth exploring further. One response so far makes an unsubstantiated claim that the shroud is a fake, and the other makes reference to carbon dating without providing any links which would back up any definitive answer on the carbon dating.

    The Wikepedia entry on the facecloth of Oviedo can be found here.

    And a 3D model made from the image on the shroud which was on display in an exhibition in Spain is pictured below. (Still taken from this short video)

    According to the art expert who is behind the project, it is a fact that the shroud had been wrapped around a man.

  20. I’m new here, migrating to this blog at Alan Fox’s recommendation on Uncommon Descent (which does appear to be sinking fast).

    In any event, I agree that Ehrman wins on substance, however, with due respect, I found Bass rude and annoying to the point that I skipped a lot of his commentary. Filibuster is the word that comes to mind. IMO, kind of a Stephen Meyer-lite type “debater.” Talk over the opposition, rapidly spit out a litany of loaded (an impertinent) questions, hog the time, always have the last word, etc. I think the debate actually revealed the superficial and formulaic nature of his “scholarship.”

    I think a case can be made that Christianity is the brainchild of Paul almost exclusively. He is, for all intent and purpose, the gatekeeper to the evidence of the resurrection. His is the only “first hand” account of seeing Jesus post-mortem. The only unbiased witnesses are the alleged 500. But of course not a single one of these folks is identified. One would think for an event of this magnitude, that hundreds of direct testimonies would have been solicited, identifying the four W’s: when, where, who and what….

    Anyway, I’m glad I found this site and look forward to the content and commentary.

  21. Hi Chuck,

    First comments are automatically held for moderation but anything else you post will appear immediately.

    Your assessment of Bass is spot on.

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