A Critique of Gary Habermas’ Fatally Flawed Argument

Gary Habermas is a Christian scholar, leading Christian apologist and he also stars in several U-Tube videos, including one called the resurrection evidence that changed current scholarship.

Habermas takes it for granted that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and he spends an hour trying to convince us he’s right. His argument is based on the following events.

Event 1:     Jesus is resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD

Event 2:     Paul meets the resurrected Jesus c 32-33 AD

Event 3:     Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD

Event 4:     Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD

Event 5:     Paul writes Galatians c 54 AD

Event 6:     Paul writes 1-Corinthians c 55 AD

Event 7:     Mark’s gospel appears c 70 AD

Event 8:     Matthew’s gospel appears c 80 AD

Event 9:     Luke’s gospel appears c 85 AD

Event 10:    Acts of the Apostles appears c 90 AD

Event 11:    John’s gospel appears c 95 AD

All the above consensus dates are well established and well documented, based in part on evidence provided by Paul in Galatians and 1-Corinthians. In Galatians 1: 11-24 Paul tells us about his first meeting with other apostles c 35-36 AD, and in Galatians 2: 1-10 Paul tells us about his second meeting with other apostles fourteen years later. In 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 Paul tells us what he learned from other apostles during his first visit to Jerusalem. Habermas claims that Galatians 2: 6 proves all the apostles, including Paul, were preaching the same gospel. Habermas also tells us that expert scholars now believe the basic gospel elements [simple creedal statements characterizes as deity, death & resurrection] could have been in circulation only six months after the alleged resurrection of Jesus c 30 AD.

Having now summarised Habermas’ argument [see video for details], let’s have a closer look at what he claims.

First he claims Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD. There is some scant independent evidence which suggests a historical Jesus was probably crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD, but the only evidence for the alleged Jerusalem resurrection is that found in the New Testament itself. This NT evidence consists of three gospel accounts, all proclaiming the resurrected Jesus was  seen by numerous alleged eye witnesses [Mark doesn’t qualify because it was amended later for consistency]. Also, we have Paul’s testimony to this resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 which states:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God”.

Now it’s a forgone conclusion that the late dating of the gospels [c 70-95 AD], more or less proves that the resurrection accounts found in these gospels must be second-hand hearsay accounts, based entirely on Paul’s above claims which he obviously made many times whilst establishing his many early “christian communities”[see also section below dealing with gospel dates].

The total lack of credible independent evidence does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of the gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This claim has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it, but it is no longer a valid claim, because  the existence of these gospels no longer proves conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. For more details on this topic see earlier blogs called Why you cannot prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?.

Second he claims Paul met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 32-33 AD. There’s no doubting Paul genuinely believed he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, unlike Paul 2000 years ago, we now fully understand the true nature of Paul’s conversion experience and today we can explain it in a simple & rational manner. Today’s medical literature is full of similar conversion experiences, all of which, we now know are caused by psychotic hallucinations triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy. I’ve already dealt with this issue in greater detail in an earlier blog called Religiosity-Biology or Brain washing? Given today’s medical & scientific evidence, I think we can now safely assume that Paul did not meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, not that Christians will ever agree of course.

Third he claims Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD. Our knowledge of this first meeting comes from Galatians 1: 11-24, and in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul specifically says:

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother [This wording is taken from the N.I.V Bible].

So, having told us when & where this meeting happened, Paul tells us he stayed with Peter for 15 days & he also tells us that, at some point during this stay, he also met James. Paul doesn’t indicate when & how long James was present, and he says absolutely nothing about what actually transpired at this meeting. We have to infer what transpired at this first meeting, and today we now accept the obvious conclusion, namely that, at this meeting, Paul told Peter & James about his meeting with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 35-36 AD, and Peter & James, in turn, told Paul about how they had witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 AD.

So Paul entered Jerusalem c 35-36 AD believing Jesus had been resurrected on the road to Damascus for his own personal benefit, and 15 days later, he left Jerusalem believing Jesus had also been resurrected in Jerusalem for the benefit of the apostles. Habermas works hard to suggest Paul deliberately visited Peter & James, to check out this Jerusalem resurrection. However, it’s doubtful Paul knew anything about this Jerusalem resurrection before he arrived in Jerusalem, and it’s thus reasonable to assume that Paul just accepted  Peter & James’ hearsay claims at face value. This would be a perfectly reasonable thing for Paul to do, given his own personal experience on the road to Damascus, and given the status of both Peter & James.

However, if we assume that Paul just accepted these hearsay claims at face value, we must address another significant problem, one that Habermas again fails to address. Paul specifically states in Galatians 1: 19 that he saw nobody else during his 15 day stay with Peter, so how do we now verify Peter & James’ 2000 year old hearsay claims? The answer is simple – we don’t, because we can’t.

Therefore, we are forced to accept that Peter & James’ claims about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem are, at best, unverified & unverifiable claims, and at worst, they may be just downright lies. Why, you might ask, would Peter & possibly James [see next paragraph] deliberately choose to lie to Paul about an alleged Jerusalem resurrection that never happened? Well, if you read The Christianity Myth you’ll find out.

Galatians 1: 19 also raises another issue not addressed by Habermas. In this verse, Paul specifically says he saw none of the other apostles, only James, the Lord’s brother. Now given the alleged circumstances surrounding this 15 day stay with Peter, Paul’s claims seem very unusual. we know the alleged resurrection occurred only 5-6 years earlier, and we know it was allegedly witnessed by over 600 people, most of whom were presumably still living in Jerusalem, and many of whom were now probably members of the alleged early Jerusalem church allegedly led by Peter & by James. Under these circumstances, it seems incredible that Paul saw none of the other apostles & none of the many alleged witnesses. However, if the alleged resurrection never actually happened, then this state of affairs would be perfectly acceptable. One is then left wondering whether Paul really did meet James at this meeting. The belated reference to James could so easily be just a simple interpolation, added later to obviate any suggestion that Paul met only Peter at this first meeting. A simple 1:1 meeting without any witnesses would weaken the orthodox model of Christianity significantly.

Now according to  Wikipedia, the earliest reasonably complete version of Galatians dates to approximately 200 AD, approximately 150 years after the original was presumably drafted. This papyrus is fragmented in a few areas, causing some of the original text to be missing but according to the Wikipedia entry, scholars can be rather certain about what the original text probably said. This state of affairs leaves plenty of scope for somebody to add this potential interpolation sometime during that first 150 years. The motive is obvious. Without this belated reference to James, this meeting becomes a simple 1:1 meeting with no other witnesses. In which case, it’s not unreasonable to consider a scenario in which there was no resurrection, no eye witnesses and no James to worry about. In this alternative scenario, Paul would still meet with Peter, but there would be no other witnesses, and verse 19 would simply say “I saw none of the other apostles“. Purely speculative of course but it would make more sense. However, I’m not expecting the Christian mindset to pursue this possibility any time soon.

Fourth he claims Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD. Galatians 2: 1-10 deals with Paul’s second encounter with other apostles, and it confirms that this time Paul met with Peter, James & John. Habermas claims Galatians 2: 6 also proves all four apostles were preaching exactly the same gospel. The N.I.V version of Galatians 2: 6 states:

As for those who seemed to be important —whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message“.

In this short verse, Paul is effectively saying “As for those who seemed to be important – all probably Jews but I don’t care – those men added nothing to my message”. Habermas maintains the phrase “those men added nothing to my message” [he actually uses the phrase “they added nothing to me”] means that Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, Habermas’ interpretation totally ignores the tensions existing between Paul and the other apostles. These tensions, all centred round the relevance of circumcision and the Jewish law, are a common theme found in Paul’s epistles.

For example, in Galatians 2:14-16 Paul says

“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

And later, in Galatians 5:2-6, Paul also says

 “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”.

 [Being justified refers to the state of being alright in God’s eyes]

And in Philippians 3: 1-3 Paul warns:

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.

Other instances confirming these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, include Galatians 2: 1-5, Galatians 3: 1-5, Galatians 3: 11-13, Galatians 3: 23-25, Galatians 5: 11, Galatians 6: 11-15, 1-Corinthians 7: 17-20, Romans 2: 25-27, Titus 1: 10-11 and Titus 3: 8-11. [Titus was one of Paul’s cohorts & Titus is not one of the seven genuine Pauline epistles].

These tensions all point to the existence of essential differences between Paul’s message & the message being preached by the other apostles. Paul had a universal message, which he aimed at Jews & Gentiles alike, and Paul believed Jesus was the son of God, sent to save mankind. The other apostles believed Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God to save the Jewish people. According to these other Apostles, only circumcised Jews, and those prepared to be circumcised and become Jews, could be saved, and then only if they obeyed the Jewish law.

Again Habermas totally ignores these obvious tensions, and he does so because he wants to interpret the phrase “they added nothing to me” as meaning Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, in the light of these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, a more logical interpretation of “they added nothing to me” would be Peter, James & John had nothing relevant to add to Paul’s message. Habermas is thus cherry picking his data to prove what he wants to prove, & he seems blind to this more rational interpretation of Galatians 2:6. This is not really surprising, because apologists are renowned for their habit of letting their own emotional needs cloud their intellectual objectivity.

Claims 5-11 – Dating of Canonical Gospels & Relevant Epistles. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem totally oblivious of this point, but then most Christians know little or nothing about the origins of their faith.

If we accept the gospel resurrection claims are based on Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-9, then we must also accept that these same gospels claims are based entirely on Peter’s [& possibly James’] unverified hearsay claims, made in Jerusalem some 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection. As indicated earlier [see section dealing with Habermas’ third point], at best, this means the resurrection claims found in the gospels are based on unverifiable claims, and at worst, it means these resurrection claims could be based on downright lies.

Christianity also fails to explain the existence of the gospel gap, a problem that has plagued Christianity for centuries. The gospel gap is the 40-65 year gap between the alleged resurrection c 30 AD and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-95 AD. Scholars & apologists readily acknowledge the existence of this gospel gap, but so far none have successfully explained its existence.

Given the above weaknesses of the orthodox model of Christianity, and its abject failure to answer many other obvious questions, perhaps the time has now come to discard the old orthodox model and embrace a new revised model that rectifies most, if not all, of these problems. Christians will never do this of course, because it means accepting a very unwelcome truth about the alleged resurrection, and for Christians at least, this is definitely a bridge too far . However, for those able to bring a little more objectivity to the table, my revised model of first century Christianity may prove more satisfying intellectually.

Details of this revised model can be found in an earlier blog called The Christianity Myth. I would also recommend reading Professor Taboo’s excellent in depth examination of Paul’s pivotal role in the development of early Christianity, especially his section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” which can be found in Saul the Apostate Intro to Part 2.

And finally, a few comments triggered by Habermas’ closing comments about a very early “deity, death, resurrection” gospel message, and his claim that this gospel message was being preached by all apostles more or less immediately after the alleged resurrection. My understanding is that the alleged “true nature of Jesus”, the one now portrayed in Nicene Christianity, took some considerable time to evolve. The fluidity of early ideas about Jesus’ true nature manifests itself in the four canonical gospels which were only adopted sometime after the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Mark’s gospel c 70 AD portrays Jesus as a simple envoy sent to warn of the impending apocalypse. Matthew’s gospel c 80 AD & Luke’s gospel c 85 AD both upgrade Jesus to the son of God, born of a virgin, and John’s gospel c 95 AD elevates Jesus to God, the word made flesh. How all this ties in with Habermas’ claims eludes me.

5 thoughts on “A Critique of Gary Habermas’ Fatally Flawed Argument

  1. Ken,

    Thank you very much for the pingback/link to my Saul the Apostate series to this well-written, enlightening post about mainstream Christian apologetics that is almost always amputated, narrow-sighted, and partial to Patristic Fathers of the 2nd thru 8th-century CE Roman Catholic Church — the roots and origins of today’s Christianity. Well done Sir.

    Another tidbit I’d like to add to this great exposé regarding Christendom relying so heavily upon (near 90% really) Saul of Tarsus for its veracity is the actual or authentic UNreliability of who Saul of Tarsus really was. From Part I of my series, if I may:

    In Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5, assuming these verses are genuinely Saul’s/Paul’s words, nowhere in Jewish Rabbinical history is there a tribal list or ancestry of Benjamin in existence at that time, not even rumors. Though it is claimed in Acts 22:3 that his rabbinic studies were under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, none of his ascribed writings and arguments in the Christian New Testament are Gamaliel or rabbinic in nature. However, with regard to his education and exposure in the Hillel school, Saul/Paul would have learned classic Hellenistic literature, ethics, and philosophy (Stoicism) and these influences do indeed reveal themselves in all his ascribed letters, especially from the Hellenistic Book of Wisdom and other Apocrypha, as well as Philo of Alexandria who is the father of harmonizing Greek philosophy with the Jewish Torah; both are transparent in Saul’s writings.

    Who Paul or Saul really was is nowhere near as 100% certain as Christian laypeople, apologists, or biased-taught (i.e. “learned” from dependent sources from the Patristic Fathers vs. independent sources or non-canonical, non-Greco-Roman or non-Judeo-Christian manuscripts and evidence) ministers or pastors graduates from most seminaries purport. In fact, there is reasonable literary evidence and cumulative independent evidence that Saul/Paul was a Herodian Jew and not at all from family in and around Jerusalem, or from sectarian Palestinian Judaism… the branch(es) of Messianic fervor that Yeshua/Jesus most certainly was part of or at minimum, heavily exposed to. The latter Second Temple Judaism of Syro-Palestine was quite different from overseas Hellenistic Judaism and Herodian Judaism which Yeshua’s/Jesus’ sects considered corrupt and not of “true” Torah-loving abiding Judaism or Gentile Noahide Judaism. And what can indeed be gleaned and extrapolated from the canonical New Testament is that 1st-century CE Syro-Palestinian Jews quickly resented or had very little patience for Herodian Judaism — if it could even be claimed as Judaic. This would explain why Saul/Paul was so horribly treated and rejected in his earliest attempts of proselytizing Jews in Syro-Palestine compared to Gentiles who were clueless about these differences.

    Food for thought for your readers. And thanks again for the pingback/link 😉

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    1. Any time. I’ve always believed in giving credit where credit’s due, and you invariably add interesting food for thought based on your superior in depth knowledge of this period in general, & Paul in particular. Your comments have clarified two points. First, why Paul eventually chose to spent so much time in the pagan world preaching to Gentiles rather to his fellow Jews, and second, why his “message” to this pagan world eventually succeeded in catalyzing the rise of a completely new belief system, one that eventually morphed into something we now call Christianity.

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      1. You are exactly spot on Ken. Aside from his “affliction” of the body/flesh (TLE) he suffered all his life, Saul’s (Paul’s) personal teachings & education were in fact already recognizable and fairly known outside Syro-Palestine BECAUSE it was so Hellenistic (Stoic philosophies, etc) and Gentiles could relate. Gentiles would listen to Saul and think to themselves: “Here is a preached disciple-seeker teaching ways and methods of “salvation” available NOT just to those weird, monotheistic Jews, BUT to all of us non-Jews in ways WE recognize, i.e. Greco-Roman Apotheosis!

        The problem — and this is always overlooked/ignored by Christian scholars and experts today — was that Torah-loving Jews everywhere already had methods for non-Jews to convert to various sects of Judaism called Noahide Laws and practices of Judaism. Just because one man has an epileptic seizure on a road to Damascus doesn’t instantly make him “chosen by God” like Israel or Judea, etc.

        Great stuff Ken! 🙂

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        1. So in effect, Paul’s early attempts to “convert” his fellow Jews in the Levant were derided by his fellow Jews, so he took his radical new message about a “gospel Jesus” to a more appreciative audience in the pagan world. Meanwhile, the other apostles stayed local and attempted to promote their more user-friendly, Messianic version of Jesus to their fellow Jews. Initially they were more successful but, after the crushing defeat of the Jews by the Romans & the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD, even their Messianic version of Jesus was rejected. So the Jews ended up rejecting Jesus entirely & the pagan world ended up embracing him as the saviour of mankind, all because Paul suffered a psychotic TLE induced episode on the road to Damascus.

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          1. That is correct Ken, however, orthodoxy is a very, VERY powerful tool of persuasion no matter what time-period one finds them self. As is the case with modern faith-believers, history critics or Christian apologists, 98% of the time they will utterly reject any alternative interpretations, extrapolations, or attempts to modify their 4th-century CE canonical New Testament by essentially NOT reading or hearing anything that doesn’t strictly align with their personal version (or that of their pastor/priest) of a Greco-Roman Christ. Sadly, that’s what 2,000+ years of conformity will do. Heresy and Satan are liberally tossed/shot at anyone who defies the mainstream orthodoxy.

            So the Jews ended up rejecting Jesus entirely…

            That depends on what viewpoint a person has chosen, that is has chosen for an a posteriori position. “Full blame” cannot really be placed upon any one group of the time, Roman or Jewish. We know very well from independent sources and evidence — which includes Roman records — that Jerusalem and Palestine was a powder-keg already because of very harsh Roman-Herodian oppression and Jewish zealots/Sicarii. Hence, the fuses were already lit and by 65-66 CE that powder-keg exploded with the Jewish-Roman War. Point being, Rome and Romans are just as guilty for crucifying the Nasoraen/Galilean (or caricature of him) as his own people are; many Jews, in all sects of Judaism in that 1st-century Roman Province were ill-tempered and quick to anger given the remarkably high tension caused by nasty Herodian rule and Jewish rebellion.

            …& the pagan world ended up embracing him as the saviour of mankind, all because Paul suffered a psychotic TLE induced episode on the road to Damascus.

            The pagan world, or Gentiles, increasingly over many decades and at least three more centuries after the crucifixion embraced Yeshua/Jesus as he (or his caricature) became LESS Torah-loving Jewish and a lot MORE Hellenic-Apotheotic “Christ.” Those were two conflicting, hostile personas that was not settled until Second Temple Palestinian Judaism/Messianism was wiped out, completely exterminated in 74 CE when Masada fell to General Lucius Flavius Silva and the 10th Legion.

            Then over the next 400 – 750 years the Roman Catholic Church — led by its Apostolic Patristic Fathers (all of which were essentially Hellenists, not Palestinian-Nasoraen Messianic — endlessly argued, debated, amputated, added, arrested, fought, etc, etc, amongst themselves as to the nature of a “Greek Christ” versus Hellenistic Roman sociopolitical norms/traditions while trying in futility to reconcile known oral traditions of Yeshua’s actual Torah-loving Jewish Messianism. The Roman “Christ” and Patristic Fathers never got it right and this is shown by the scrolls of Qumran, i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls and a plethora of other non-canonical manuscripts and independent evidence. 🙂

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