A Lawyer's Case for the Resurrection Part 2

Mar 23, 2020

This episode continues to discuss the CASE acronym, specifically the S and the E to establish the case that Jesus rose from the dead. We discuss the burden of proof once again, and how the Christian can meet the burden and then shift it onto the skeptic to try to explain what happened to Jesus.

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Abdu Murray - @AbduMurray


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Abdu Murray: Welcome back ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to another episode of The Defense Rests. I'm Abdu Murray, your hosts and The Defense Rests is a podcast where we look at the claim for and the objections against the Christian faith from a legal perspective. That we look at the rules of evidence, courtroom procedures, how juries think, how lawyers think, how judges think. To see if the claims for the Christian faith can withstand the kind of scrutiny that you'd have at a trial. Do the claims against the Christian faith, are they objections? Are they counter arguments against the Christian faith? Do they steadily hold up to the kind of scrutiny you'd have at a trial as well. Now this is the episode three where we're continuing our discussion of the strong evidence I think there exists for the resurrection of Jesus as a central claim for the Christian faith. And in our last episode we discussed the differences between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.

If you haven't heard that episode, I suggest that you...Strongly suggest actually that you go back and listen to that episode. Because not only do I lay out the differences between circumstantial and direct evidence, but I show first that it's common acceptance within the legal community that circumstantial evidence is just as powerful, sometimes even more persuasive than direct evidence. And then I lay out... I begin to lay out the case for the resurrection of Jesus, sort of my closing argument as it were, summarizing the evidence using an acronym which is CASE, C-A-S-E, for four key facts that scholars, most scholars, in fact the healthy majority of scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike, will agree happened to the historical Jesus. And the acronym CASE is easy to remember because I'm establishing the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Now, the first two letters stood for the crucifixion of Jesus, that he died by crucifixion, and that he appeared to his disciples as the risen Jesus.

And in that episode, I described the evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion, which is important because some folks like Muslims and others might say that he didn't even die by crucifixion, that he survived or escaped it or something like that. So we have to show that he did in fact die. And I think I've conclusively showed that. In fact, most scholars, almost every scholar worth their salt who studies the historical Jesus will tell you that it's as certain as any fact could ever be, that Jesus died by crucifixion. But then the second fact was that the disciples and Paul, who wasn't an original disciple of Jesus, they all believed that they saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes. That he appeared to them as the risen Christ, not the surviving Christ, not the escaping Christ, but the resurrected Jesus. So we have the C, the crucifixion and the A, the appearances, the disciples as resurrected once again.

So now we're going to conclude the CASE with the next two facts, which are the S and the E. And the S in the case stands for the skeptics converted. And before I continue, I want to once again give thanks to my good friend Mickey Battle Amente who helped me to develop, in effect, largely he's responsible for the development of this acronym to set out these four key facts. So we come to the S in the acronym CASE, and that stands for the skeptics converted to Christianity. Now what are we talking about here? We're talking about two people who are opposed to Jesus and his message who were so radically changed that they began to propagate his message, and the very fact of Jesus's resurrection as well. So skeptics will often say, "Well, you know the disciples who followed Jesus around and the gospels and all this, of course they say that Jesus died and rose from the dead."

There are Christians after all. But wouldn't it be odd? Wouldn't it be odd for someone to have seen all of this, the risen Jesus, to have seen him die or knew that he died and then saw him raised again and then not follow Jesus as Messiah? Wouldn't that be bizarre? So saying that the disciples were biased somehow doesn't actually work because they wouldn't have been biased. In other words, they didn't believe in the resurrection because they were Christians. They became Christians because they believed in the resurrection, and that's goes in completely opposite of what sometimes people think happens here. They didn't have any bias. There was no reason for these disciples to lie about it. In fact, they had nothing to gain. Certainly no political power, no sort of pleasure principle here. There was no seeking of pleasure like women and riches and all these kinds of things because they certainly didn't have that as their faith, although they all were either willing to or did die and all these kinds of things.

But let's say we want to go one step further with credibility and say we don't want to just rely on the testimony of the people who follow Jesus around, and thought he was the coming Messiah. Let's think about someone who didn't originally believe that, who was opposed to it. Let's think of two someones who was like that, who actually didn't believe them. Now, I can tell you this, as a trial attorney, it's extremely rare for someone who disagrees with you in a case to suddenly decide that you are right. Or not only on the whole case, but maybe even just on one particular fact, especially when deciding and admitting that you're right will really hurt their case or their defense. It's extremely rare. It does happen, but it's extremely rare.

And I can tell you this, whenever you have that kind of a witness, somebody who was against you, and then is suddenly for you, especially if that person is a party to the lawsuit, they're not just a witness who saw something but they're involved in the lawsuit itself, they're like a defendant or a plaintiff and they suddenly change their views on something. Or they say, "You know what? You're right about this particular fact and it's devastating to my case."

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I got to tell you, if you can, you put that witness on the stand, no matter how hostile they may have seemed originally, you put that witness on the stand, and you let them sing their song to their heart's content. You, as a trial attorney, would drool over that kind of a witness. Someone who was against you and then is for you, or at least admits a fact that helps your case. We have exactly that in the apostle Paul and with James to a bit of a lesser degree. What do I mean? So all scholars will tell you, they'll tell you that Paul was originally this guy Saul of Tarsus, who was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was a very legalistic, very pious, very accomplished Jew who hated the idea of Christianity.

He hated this idea that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and was going to free people from Rome or free people from whatever else it was. That he came to abolish the law and all this stuff, which he didn't, he came to fulfill the law. But Paul hated this message and then he suddenly changes his mind. He suddenly converts. The book of Acts records that Paul approved of the stoning death of one of Peter's disciples named Steven. He actually approved of that. We actually know that Paul, by his own admission, and by the admissions of other people, that Paul was an enemy of Christianity. But Paul by his own statements and everybody agrees on this, all scholars, Christian and non-Christian alike agree that Paul changed his mind suddenly, from being an opponent of Christianity to being one of its greatest champions.

In fact, writing two thirds of the New Testament as well. And his conversion must be explained somehow. His conversion is not a point of controversy. Everyone agrees with it, but then we also have James, Jesus' half-brother, who was not a follower of Jesus. He was someone who thought that Jesus was out to lunch as it were. The gospels report that James was an unbeliever in Jesus. He believed in God. He just didn't believe that Jesus was Messiah. And this is of course was very embarrassing because his own brother doesn't even believe him. We have this recorded in Mark chapter three verse 21, and verse 31 Mark chapter six, verses three to four. And in John chapter seven verses two to five, that James did not think his brother was the Messiah and really thought honestly that he was out to lunch. Why is that important?

Here's why it's important, because James later converts to Christianity based on the resurrection of Jesus. Now, if he was somebody who had already believed in Jesus and was waiting for him to be the resurrected Messiah and all this, well then you might discount his testimony, but he wasn't. Now, it's important you understand this, the gospels record that James doubted Jesus. He wasn't really all that big of fan. Now the fact that they record this is embarrassing, right? I mean it's the kind of thing where you don't want to tell people, look, even his own brother doubted him. Because it tends to show that maybe you shouldn't believe him either, but the fact that they recorded it means that it's likely true. In other words, why would they have recorded such an embarrassing fact unless it actually happened? You could have left it all out and made your case just as strong, but they include this embarrassing fact.

We have something similar to that in the law. It's an exception to the hearsay rule. Now, hearsay is excluded from a court of law. Hearsay testimony is excluded. In other words, statements that are made outside the presence of the jury are excluded from a court of law, because you can't cross examine the person on the statement because they're not there. Maybe they're lying or whatever it might be, but there's a lot of exceptions to the hearsay rule and one of those exceptions allows for testimony that's otherwise excludable to come in when it's a statement against interest. Or it's a sort of an embarrassing admission that someone makes. So an out of court statement that tends to hurt someone who makes the statement is considered more reliable because why would somebody lie about a fact that tends to hurt their case? They tend not to lie about those kinds of things.

So it gets let in. Well, this is similar with the gospels recording that James was not a follower of Jesus. This is an embarrassing fact, and yet the gospels record it. But that also does lead to something important because James was willing to be martyred for his later belief that he saw the risen Jesus. He becomes a leader of the Jerusalem church, the city in which all of these things actually happened. So he converts from a skeptic into a champion for the Christian faith based on having seen the resurrection of Jesus and his martyrdom is recorded. We have non-Christian and Christian sources. We have Josephus, a Jewish historian. We have Hegesippus who is preserved in an ancient writer named Eusebius, then Clement of Alexandria, who records the martyrdom of James. You'd have to invent a highly unlikely story to account for the conversions of Paul from an enemy of Christianity to its greatest champion.

And you would have to invent a cleverly invented, unlikely story to account for James's conversion, from a skeptic to a champion of Christianity. See, these men, Paul and James had every reason not to convert, except for the fact that they truly believed that they saw the bodily risen Jesus. And finally we come to the E in the case, which stands for the empty tomb. Now this is an important distinction we have to make, the facts I've given you so far. The C, the A and the S, the crucifixion. The appearances, and the skeptics converted, are facts that all or nearly all scholars believe actually happened to Jesus and you don't really need very much evidence to really convince anybody that at least something happened that convinced these people that he Rose from the dead. In other words, most scholars, the vast majority of scholars, whether Christian or non-Christian alike agree on those three facts, and by the way, that's all you really need.

You don't need any more to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Or you don't need any more, I should say, to reasonably infer from the circumstantial evidence and some of the direct evidence like the eye witness testimony, that Jesus rose from the dead. If you believe that he died by crucifixion, that his disciples believed that they actually saw with their own eyes a raised Jesus, that they would have had to have known was a lie. And that Paul and James who had no reason to believe in the risen Jesus came to believe in the risen Jesus. That's all you'd need. That's literally all you'd need. And any explanation that runs counter to it has to account for all three of those facts in a compelling way. But we have one more fact and it's the empty tomb. It's the E.

Now, the reason why I want to make a distinction is because this is not attested to by all scholars. An impressive number of scholars, Gary Habermas, who is an expert in the resurrection, who has studied it his entire academic career, has amassed quite an impressive survey of different scholars across different spectra, whether liberal or conservative, atheist or Christian or whatever it might be, on the empty tomb.

And I think if I'm not mistaken, that he has come to the conclusion that's 75% believe that there is a good case for the historicity of the empty tomb. What do I mean by that? What I mean is, is that we knew where Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. We knew which tomb it was in and that three days later it was actually empty. His body was not there. Now we don't need that fact once again to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. But I think it does help to...To borrow a phrase put another nail in the coffin of the case against the resurrection. We can show that this is actually a great reason to believe that he did rise from the dead. First, we have some principles of embarrassment. Again, that whole thing about why would the gospel writers include something that wasn't true, if it's embarrassing. Why don't we just leave it out?

Well, one of the first indications of the reliability of the idea that the tomb was known and was empty is the fact that the first people to see the risen Jesus were women. All the gospels record that women, his women followers, we're the first ones to see the risen Jesus. Now this is important because everyone will tell you that a woman's testimony, was worth almost nothing in the ancient Near East. It was either worth half that of a man or worthless almost entirely in a court of law. So if you were to make up a story about Jesus having risen from the dead, and you could have picked the first witnesses to that, who would you have picked? Well, you would have picked Peter, or James, or John, or a name of Bartholomew, anybody except for a woman, but they picked women to be the first ones.

In fact, the women were the ones who actually talked to and told the disciples about the risen Jesus, and they came running. And based on that testimony to see that he in fact wasn't in that tomb anymore. So the fact that they recorded the women shows a higher degree of credibility that their accounts were actually accurate. In other words, if women didn't see Jesus at the empty tomb or didn't see the tomb empty, then you wouldn't have recorded it at all. But if you record that women were the first ones to see the empty tomb and to see the raised Jesus, the reason you do that is not because you're trying to make it look more credible because it would look less credible. What you're doing is you're basically saying how it actually happened. So we have more reason to believe the empty tomb story is credible because of this, the admission that this embarrassing fact that women were the first ones to see the risen Jesus.

Plus we know where the tomb was. In other words, they didn't get the wrong tomb they didn't go to the wrong place. The reason is, is because the gospels tell us that the tomb was of a man named Joseph of Arimathea. Now this is important for two reasons. One, that's very specific. Why would you invent a man and then say where he's from and all these kinds of things. The Bible is full of stories. The New Testament included where we don't always have the names of people who saw important things. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. And experts like Richard Bauckham would say, the reason why we have those names included oftentimes is because that's a firsthand eyewitness account. It's an indication that the story is being relayed by a specific person that everyone would know or at least could verify the information with. And Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

One, because the name is so specific and two, because he is likely a rich man, and a member of the Jewish high council, the Sanhedrin. It would be like naming a famous person and saying, by the way, someone's buried in his family tomb. Well, you could go check that out. You could go find out where that is. Think about it today, if someone were to say, "Well, that person's buried in Bernie Sanders' family tomb." If he has one, I have no idea if he has one or not. Well, you could go find out where that is. You have a public figure, a lot of information is available on public figures and you can go find that out. Joseph of Arimathea would be something very similar to that. So it's unlikely to be a Christian invention. So they knew where the tomb was.

The gospels record that at that tomb, women saw it was empty. And then saw the raised Jesus as the first witnesses. So you have two elements of credibility. One specificity as to where the tomb was. Two, that the witnesses were not exactly the best kinds of witnesses you would want to have a recorded as the first witnesses, but they were because that's how it happened. And so we have great indications and great evidence to believe that the tomb was known and was empty three days later. And that's why, among other reasons, why a lot of scholars will tell you that we know the tomb, where it was and that it was empty. Now it's important to backtrack a bit and once again repeat the fact that it doesn't have to be established as a fact that the tomb was known and the tomb was empty.

We don't have to establish that fact. All we need is that Jesus died. His disciples believe they saw him appeared, or having appeared resurrected, and that the skeptics, Paul and James converted based on their testimony that they saw the raised Jesus. The tomb is just another bit of very powerful evidence to sort of seal the deal as it were, because it wasn't the empty tomb that convinced the disciples that Jesus was raised. It was the appearances. It was their belief that they saw him actually raised, that convinced them that he was in fact raised. It wasn't the empty tomb. In other words, think about this. If all they had was an empty tomb, well, they could have said, "Well, I don't know what happened exactly." Maybe he rose spiritually sort of ephemerally. He evaporated into the mist, sort of like Jehovah's Witnesses believed, or someone stole the body.

As the Jewish guard actually had invented that story, the Jewish leaders and the guard invented the story at the body was removed from the tomb even though it stayed dead. Well, the disciples could have said, "Well, maybe it was that." But they didn't. They didn't believe it was that. They believed it was the resurrection, not because the tomb was empty, but because they saw him outside the tomb in various ways with their own eyes. So we don't even need the tomb. But the tomb is a very powerful evidence as well. I mean, think about this. If you don't need the tomb to make your case that Jesus rose from the dead, all you need is your eye witness testimony that a bunch of people saw him risen from the dead, then why would you invent the tomb? The tomb doesn't help in the sense that it is necessary.

It does help in the sense that it's cumulative. It's another circumstantial piece of evidence, but you don't need it. It's not a necessary element. All you need is he died and he appeared and the skeptics were converted. So why would you invent the empty tomb if it's an unnecessary element, and then have all these surrounding details around it. In other words, you wouldn't invent a lie that could be falsified so easily like an empty tomb, unless it was true. And with that, we see responses to the empty tomb because it was such a powerful bit of evidence that the Jewish authorities had to respond by saying the disciples stole the body. In fact, we see that in Matthew's gospel, we see them telling the Jewish leaders, telling the Jewish guard that you can say that the disciples took the body while you were asleep or something like that and we'll cover for you.

Well, if the body was still in the tomb, they wouldn't need to create that cover story. In other words, the cover story presupposes the fact that the tomb was empty. So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what we have is four facts in the case, which I think are very, very well established. Three of which almost no scholar would tell you is false. One of which an impressive number of scholars, Christian and otherwise would tell you is likely historical. All of which cry out for an explanation. So we have the C that Jesus died by crucifixion. We have the A, that after that crucifixion, his disciples and Paul experienced something that convinced them that they saw the raised Jesus. And that the skeptics S, were converted. Paul and James who were enemies of the Christian faith or at least blasé or skeptical of it became its greatest champions based on their testimony that they saw the raised Jesus. And then the E, the empty tomb.

The tomb was known, and that it was empty three days later. All of that cries out for an explanation. And so we come back to the burden of proof. I made the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. I therefore bear the burden of proof. Of proving beyond a preponderance of the evidence that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. I think all four of those facts have helped me to establish or to meet my burden. Now the burden does shift to the skeptic to say, "Well, either A, those facts are untrue, or B, there's an explanation for those facts that doesn't have to necessarily lead to a resurrection." Now, what we're going to do in the episodes to come is deal with those counter explanations to see if the skeptic can meet the burden of proof that once I've actually established this case, you have to go and say, what is the counter explanation?

Or how are these facts false? This is important, ladies and gentlemen, and we'll get to this in future episodes as well, but as I said before, you can't just sit there and say, "Not good enough." If the evidence does show that a reasonable person could come away believing that Jesus rose from the dead. I'll tell you this, I was at a debate with the atheist John Loftus on this issue and I presented evidence I just presented to you. And during the Q and A, a young man came to the microphone who's not a Christian. He was an atheist actually, and he said, "Mister Murray, you won this debate hands down." Now, this is not a brag. I'm not saying this to be a brag, what I'm saying this for is that the evidence allowed me to have won that debate. And reasonable people could come to the conclusion that Jesus did rise from the dead.

Then the fact is, the burden then shifts to the skeptic of the resurrection to explain what actually happened. You see in a jury trial, you can't just have the plaintiff or the prosecution put on their case and then the defense say, "Well they haven't proved their case." That does happen and I'll explain that in another episode, where they say, "Your honor, they haven't proven their case. I demand that you direct a verdict against the prosecution or against the plaintiff." And it's very rarely ever granted because people don't usually bring cases unless they have at least some modicum of proof.

And then when it's denied, when the judge says "No, they've at least given enough evidence that a reasonable jury could infer that they're right." Then the defense can have an option. The option A, is do nothing. Just rest and say, "I trust that the jury will find in my favor because the evidence against... Sorry, the evidence that the prosecution or the plaintiff has presented it just isn't good enough." Or, which is more likely and far more often the case, the defense will provide a counter explanation or show that the plaintiff or the prosecution's case isn't as good or it somehow is flawed or false.

You see, juries want to know what happened. And in this instance with the resurrection, we know something happened. We know something accounts for the start of the Christian Church. We know something accounts for the impetus for the Christian faith, that needs to be explained. Now, can it be explained by the resurrection? Well quite easily. Can all four those facts be explained by the resurrection? Quite easily. But you can't just sit back and say, "Not good enough." Because something happened that changed the world. The jury, you ladies and gentlemen would rightly want to know what is the counter explanation? Abdu's already shown his case. The Christian faith has already provided enough evidence for the resurrection. Now, are the counterexamples worthy of our attention? It is to those counterexamples we will turn in the next few episodes of The Defense Rests.

So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm Abdu Murray. I presented the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Come back and join us again, when we'll discuss some of the responses to this evidence and see whether or not those objections actually are sustainable. Thanks for joining me. Until then, the defense rests.

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