Robert Conner

“Bad faith,” defined as the refusal to confront or acknowledge facts or choices, is the bedrock of Anglo-American apologetic Christian scholarship, the walking, talking incarnation of the phoniness, dissembling, evasion and casuistry of bad faith argumentation. Members of the Jesus Studies guild increasingly recognize that evangelicals in particular appear genetically incapable of sustaining any rational argument based on probability or coherent textual interrogation and nowhere are these disabilities more apparent than in the fundamentalist defense of the historicity of the resurrection. In point of fact, the Evangelical Resurrection Industrial Complex (ERIC) has churned out scores of scholarly tomes, hundreds of erudite disquisitions in professional journals, dissertations and commentaries, as well as debates and conferences beyond numbering, and the tsunami of dishonest verbiage shows no sign of receding. Fear not, however. I have no intention of dragging the reader through the miasma left in the wake of this fetid inundation. I wish only to suggest that evangelicals have permanently disqualified themselves from rational discourse and can henceforth be left to natter among themselves.

Evangelical petitio principii begins with the very words of the New Testament—a recently released intermediate New Testament Greek grammar boldly announces on its first page that “inerrancy and inspiration extend specifically to the Scriptures in the autographs”[i] so it should come as no surprise that even the grammatical analysis of Christianity’s founding texts has been tailored to fit theological claims.  As is well known to students of New Testament Greek, conservative grammarians have interpreted the syntax of koinē itself to explicitly support the divinity of Christ in the form of Granville Sharp’s rule (1778) and Colwell’s rule (1933).[ii] Colwell’s rule basically stood unchallenged as Jesus’ ‘Get Into the Godhead[iii] free card’ when applied to John 1:1 until finally questioned a generation later in 1973.[iv] Significantly, Robertson’s monumental grammar of New Testament Greek had already established on textual grounds that the anarthous theos of John 1:1 was not a “convertible term” and that the absence of the definite article was “on purpose and essential to the true idea,”[v] but the considered opinion of Robertson, a renowned specialist in the grammar of koinē Greek and a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, until his death in 1934, apparently failed to render the “correct” answer where the full divinity of Christ was concerned.

Before briefly wading into the thicket of evangelical assumptions about the resurrection specifically, it is worth the effort to momentarily touch upon some broader religious presuppositions. The first of those is that humanity itself is special—the relevant term of art in this case being “anthropocentrism.” The evangelical often asks “Why are we [Homo sapiens] here?” as the opening gambit to proselytizing the unconverted but never asks why giraffes are here, or bats, or aardvarks, or whales, or why pterodactyls and plesiosaurs were here. The fields of evolutionary biology and paleontology provide answers to the question “Why are we here?” but their answers are not the answers evangelicals want to hear. Evangelicals, with their Creation Museums and Ark Exhibits, epitomize both the special pleading of anthropocentrism as well as the rejection of evidence that disconfirms their presumptions.

Evangelicals are also special as the chosen people of God—“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”[vi] Well isn’t that just special! To the evangelical mind this notion privileges Christian believers“But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.”[vii] Immersed to the point of saturation in the fantasy of their own abiding wisdom, it is understandable that true believers come across to secular moderns as simultaneously condescending and ridiculous.

Before turning specifically to evangelical resurrection claims, let’s establish some baselines of mainstream New Testament historical scholarship. First, the evidence for the career of Jesus is textualno archaeological evidence exists that has a direct bearing on the life of Jesus much less the truth claims of Christianity. As much as evangelical apologists may wish, establishing that Pontius Pilate really lived doesn’t count inasmuch as no one ever questioned it. Moreover, textual and historical interrogation must be able to return negative results, rejection of claims that do not adequately account for the evidence, that lack coherence, or that beg questions, i.e., make initial assumptions unsupported by the preponderance of the available evidence.

Evangelicals, who are Johnny-come-latelies to the historical enterprise, pretend to use historical criteria to support their gospels-as-history claims and “miraculously, it turns out that they support the Gospels’ historicity…If the application of the criteria in every case yields a positive assessment, we have not proof of historicity but doubt about the viability of the criteria.”[viii] Others have also remarked on the inability of evangelical “scholars” to find anything that clearly marks some part of the gospels as make-believe—“evangelical scholars do not allow those same criteria to lead to negative historical conclusions, i.e., to the judgment that passages [in the gospels] are non-historical fictions.”[ix]

Since the mainstream Jesus Studies guild has remained unconvinced by apologetic evangelical forays into historical criticism, it is a fair question to ask for whom, exactly, all this material is being produced. As Miller has perceptively noted, the “implied audience…are Christians who believe Jesus is divine but who also want to believe that biblical scholarship can demonstrate that the historical Jesus believed this about himself…only recently have Christian believers been disturbed by biblical scholarship that emphasizes the difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Biblical scholars have long questioned (or denied) the historical reliability of the gospels; but only in the last decade have some of them communicated this directly and without equivocation to the American public…What are needed are champions of the faith who can defend orthodoxy from within the scholarly guild.”[x] It is my contention that evangelical “scholars” are in essence frauds, no more than ‘merchants of doubt,’ the Christian equivalent of ‘tobacco scientists’ and purveyors of climate change denial. In subsequent installments we’ll take a jaundiced look at some of the particulars of the resurrection claim.

[i] Köstenberger, et al., Going Deeper With New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament, 2016, B&H Academic.
[ii] Colwell, Earnest C. “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933) 12-21.
[iii] “Godhead” has nothing to do etymologically with “head.” It basically means “godhood.”
[iv] Harner, Philip B. “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973) 75-87.
[v] A. T. Robertson. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 1914, 1923, Hodder & Stoughton.
[vi] 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)
[vii] 1 Corinthians 2:16 (New Living Translation).
[viii] Levine, Amy-Jill, “Christian Faith and the Study of the Historical Jesus: A Response to Bock, Keener, and Webb,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 9 (2011), 97-98.
[ix] Miller, Robert J. “When It’s Futile to Argue about the Historical Jesus: A Response to Bock, Keener, and Webb,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 9 (2011), 89.
[x] Miller, Robert J. “Can the Historical Jesus be Made Safe for Orthodoxy? A Critique of The Jesus Quest by Ben Witherington III,” Journal of Higher Criticism 4 (1997), 136.