• Resurrection: “Thoroughly Historical”

    I accompanied my wife to her church for Easter service today, mainly to watch our three kids sing. They were cute.

    However, the sermon was horrible. The pastor asserted several times that the empty tomb of Jesus was “thoroughly historical.” He offered no concrete evidence, mind you, just an argument not dissimilar to this.

    But let me switch focus to mention that the pastor’s backing slideshow was very well done: professional and sophisticated. Yet my wife’s church doesn’t have that much money. They are working towards their own church, but don’t have one yet. So, with a production that slick, I wonder which organization the church is really part of. I suspect the church is an independent “franchisee” of a larger mega-church brand.

    I take the not-very-convincing repetition of the “thoroughly historical” resurrection as a sign that the New Atheism has made an impact. On the day of spring, bunnies, and chocolate, one clergyman had to–he had to–devote much of the sermon to apologetics. And while he had a neat-o story, he had no documentary evidence or anything else of substance.

    Readers? What  are your thoughts on the “thorough historicity” of the empty tomb? Do you think the New Atheists have put clergy-folk back on their heels?

    Category: Home LifeReligion


    Article by: Larry Tanner

    • Thank you for the link, Larry. I hope you don’t think the argument there on my blog was intended to be more than what it was: a very quick introduction.

      There are reasons that most historians believe certain facts in the resurrection accounts are indeed that — facts. I didn’t go into those in any depth. It would be premature for anyone reading here to dismiss it on the basis of what I wrote: true intellectual responsibility is to engage an argument at its strongest, not in a one-minute summary form.

      • lartanner

        No, I don’t think the argument on your blog is intended to be more than a very quick introduction. I am familiar with the reasons that many (or most, if you like) historians believe that certain elements in the various accounts of the resurrection story are likely to be factual.

        Are they good reasons? Kind of.

        Are they enough to pronounce the resurrection–reported as resurrection–to be factual? No, not even close.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      I guess my question is, which version is historical?

    • Sareeda

      “Readers? What are your thoughts on the “thorough historicity” of the
      empty tomb? Do you think the New Atheists have put clergy-folk back on
      their heels?”

      No. Most of the New Atheists don’t dispute the historicity of Jesus – the ones who do are often smacked down by the ones who don’t. Most of the clergy are probably not even aware that this small part of the New Atheist paradigm exists and are far more concerned with all the other things Dawkins et al have said.

      • lartanner


        I agree that many — or most, if you like — New Atheists think Jesus is probably historical, but that’s not my point at all. The point is that the pastor I saw understood that the resurrection story was questionable historically. That’s not a result of NAs challenging historicity but of their demanding evidence. I think the pastor understands that he now lives in a world where if he does not state — again and again — that the resurrection is ‘thoroughly historical’ then he’s going to lose some people who start to wonder whether it really is.

      • What on Earth are you saying? It’s one thing to not doubt the historicity of a radical rabbi with a certain name around a certain time — it’s quite another thing to think he was really observed walking on water, raising a man from the dead, or coming back to life days after his own death and burial.

    • ncovington89

      See my post “Resurrection of Jesus: Ultimate Smackdown”:

      Here’s what I say about the empty tomb:

      “Not only does the empty tomb story lack evidence, there’s good evidence
      that it is a legend. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul argues for the
      resurrection and cites a number of people who have seen the resurrection
      to prove that it happened. But he doesn’t mention an empty tomb. That’s
      rather extraordinary. Every Christian apologist that I have ever heard
      argue for the resurrection always brings up the empty tomb. Every single
      one. Paul, on the other hand, fails to mention it. His failure to
      mention it would be extremely improbable if he had known of empty tomb.
      On the other hand, his failure to mention the empty tomb is very likely
      if the empty tomb story were a legend that sprang up sometime after Paul
      wrote 1 Corinthians.”

    • Tony Hoffman

      It’s an interesting observation. In my experience growing up going to church, and attending services, I’ve never heard someone deliver the sermon with the “thoroughly historical” modifier — that was a kind of assumption that no one would have questioned or considered. And I think you’re correct, that it shows that the language of apologetics is having a kind of “trickle down” effect on the garden variety language heard within a church. I think that what struck your ear might also be telling — I wonder if even introducing the term to a passive audience might cause more questioning than not raising it at all. Interesting stuff — thanks for posting on it.

    • Phasespace

      Re: New atheists putting the clergy-folk back on the heels…

      I’m not so sure that the use of the “thoroughly historical” wording is necessarily a response to new atheism. It may be, but on the other hand, I remember the pastor that ran my grandmother’s funeral nearly 20 years ago preached a similar and extremely annoying sermon using the same vernacular, trying to gain converts and preying on people’s grief. I still bristle at that. Anyway, that was long before the 4 horsemen really started rabble rousing.

      I suspect that this kind of reasoning has probably been around awhile. Consider the degree to which the religious tacitly accept the primacy of science while adamantly denying it’s findings. For example, the ongoing attempt to paint creationism as a real science while denying evolution. Which is an activity that has been going on for decades.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I am always baffled that anyone considers the “empty tomb” argument convincing.

      Suppose we accept, ad arguendum, that Jesus existed, preached and died as described in the Gospels, and that the tomb was indeed found empty. What exactly would that prove?

      ‘I have an invisible pink unicorn on the palm of my hand. Do you see it? No? Well that proves its invisible!’

    • Dave Jones

      the culture industry – the ideology of death



    • As a former pastor who preached plenty of resurrection Sundays I recognize this as familiar. It’s likely not a reaction to anything in the atheism world but simply aimed at winning souls. Most pastors see Easter and Christmas as one of the few times extended family comes to church, many of them unbelieving. Therefore, it’s an opportunity to try to convince them of the validity of the Christian faith. Almost all resurrection sermons tend to be apologetic in nature, because the overarching narrative is “if this is true…but if its false..” It never rally occured to me back then that I was also really trying to convince and support my own faith and the faith of my congregation. It’s like the Super Bowl of Sundays for Christians where the validity of its central claim thematically on display.

      I also wouldn’t read too much into his presentation. There are so many inexpensive visual software churches can use for low monthly cost etc…

      My personal experience is that most pastors only know the affirmative side of their arguments and don’t spend much time with counter arguments and critical writings. It’s settled for them and they are simply tring to convinced the unconvinced and keep the concivined, convinced!

      • atheistintermarried

        Makes sense.

    • deltmachine

      the cultire industry – the ideology of death


      …… …..