Was Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem? – Part 1

Some time ago, I challenged Christian bloggers to provide a convincing evidenced-based argument that proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem as claimed. For the apologetic purists out there, I define proof as an evidence-based argument that confirms the veracity of a claim/assertion or an evidence-based argument that refutes the veracity of a claim/assertion. At the very least, I expected someone to point to the Gary Habermas argument [1], but so far, the response to this challenge is a big fat ZERO! I’m guessing my original challenge was too daunting for all those apologists out there. I’m thus making the challenge less onerous by offering specific evidence-based arguments that refute specific Orthodox claims, and invite apologists to respond with evidence-based arguments supporting these specific claims. Further lack of response to this less onerous challenge will be interpreted as either, no prior awareness of the specified problem, or prior awareness to the specified problem but no answer to it.

I’m going to start this series by addressing a crucial element of the Orthodox Christian narrative, namely the Orthodox claim that the Lord’s brother James was present at Paul’s first crucial meeting with Peter in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE. James’ alleged presence at this meeting is a crucial element of the Orthodox narrative, because it allows apologists to claim Paul’s knowledge of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem was gained directly from two very reliable eye witnesses, Peter and James, both of whom were stalwarts of early Christianity with impeccable credentials. These days, modern apologists like Gary Habermas [1] demonstrate that the Gospel evidence can still be trusted, by linking the Gospel resurrection accounts to Peter and James’ reliable eye-witness evidence, using Paul as a reliable intermediary. They do this to overcome the awkward gospel gap separating the Gospel evidence dated c 75-100 CE from the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE.

1. Paul’s first meeting with other Apostles in Jerusalem.

Paul refers to his crucial first meeting in Galatians 1:18-19. These two short verses simply state:

  • “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”.

Paul makes no attempt to explain why he saw only James and none of the other Apostles, and he makes no attempt to explain when he actually saw James, and for how long. Given this paucity of data, we will never know with any certainty, what really happened at this first crucial meeting. All we can now do is speculate about what happened. The Orthodox narrative simply ignores Paul’s first claim that he saw no other Apostle, and then it asserts the second claim justifies the following three Orthodox assumptions:

  • At this crucial first meeting, Paul told Peter and James about his dramatic conversion experience.
  • At this crucial first meeting Peter and James told Paul about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem several years earlier.
  • At this crucial first meeting, both parties accepted the other party’s claims at face value.

These three assumptions, all based on purely speculative conjecture that James was actually present at this first meeting with Peter, then allow the Orthodox narrative to assert that Paul’s knowledge of the Jerusalem resurrection was gained directly from two reliable eye-witnesses, both pillars of early Christianity with impeccable credentials. We should note that this simple ploy conveniently circumvents any suggestion that Paul’s knowledge of the alleged resurrection was based entirely on Peter’s uncorroborated hearsay claims.

2. Was James present at this first meeting?

The Orthodox narrative simply asserts that Galatians 1:19 proves James was actually present at Paul’s first crucial meeting with Peter. However, before accepting this Orthodox assertion at face value, we should look closely at what Paul actually tells us in Galatians 1: 19. In the NIV version, Paul simply states:

  • “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother”.

We should note the deliberate use of the word saw rather than the word met. Practically all New Testament translations of Galatians 1:19 use the word saw rather than the word met. The only exception is the New Living Translation [NLT] which states:

  • “The only other apostle I met at that time was James the Lord’s brother”.

This NLT translation does suggest James could have been present at this crucial meeting, at least some of the time, but even this translation is not definitive confirmation that James was party to Peter and Paul’s exchanges. All other translations of Galatians 1:19 just reflect Paul’s basic claim that he saw only James and none of the other Apostles whilst staying with Peter in Jerusalem for 15 day. These two simple claims are actually very incongruous, given the actual circumstances of this first meeting. It occurred in Jerusalem just a few years after Jesus’ alleged resurrection also in Jerusalem. It lasted 15 days, and at the time of this meeting, Peter was a patriarch of the “early Jerusalem church”. Thus we can reasonably suggest that many of those who allegedly witnessed Jesus’ alleged resurrection were now members of this early Jerusalem church. So why didn’t Peter invite Paul to attend his Jerusalem Church? Why didn’t Peter introduce Paul to other apostles and to other church members whilst he was in Jerusalem? Why didn’t Peter and the other apostles celebrate Paul’s recent redemption?

The Orthodox narrative addresses none of these issues. It simply exploits the paucity of data in Galatians 1:19 and asserts Peter, James and Paul spent 15 days comparing notes and swapping stories about their own personal experiences. However, as already demonstrated, the Orthodox interpretation of this sparse verse is just speculative conjecture that has never been validated nor independently corroborated. Its simple purpose is to make the Orthodox narrative more robust. Thus we can reasonably challenge this very convenient conjecture and simply postulate that James did in fact make a brief appearance during Paul’s 15 days stay with Peter, but he didn’t stay very long. This perfectly reasonable alternative interpretation of Galatians 1:19 can be justified as follows:

  • Paul was a zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers and his sudden arrival in Jerusalem left Peter feeling very perturbed and very wary of Paul’s presence. Peter was also very skeptical of Paul’s claim that he was now a reformed character since meeting Jesus three years ago. Peter knew Jesus died in Jerusalem 5-6 years ago, so. Paul was obviously lying about meeting Jesus and he was just trying to trap Peter into revealing the whereabouts of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. Thus it took Paul considerable time and effort both to allay Peter’s fears and to convince Peter that his claims about meeting Jesus were genuine. At some stage during this initial uncertainty phase, James arrived not knowing Paul was there. He was thus very perturbed by Paul’s presence and he quickly excused himself and rushed off to warn people to keep their heads down until Paul left Jerusalem.

We should note that this postulated James just popped-in but didn’t stay scenario is pure speculative conjecture, forcibly made in response to the dearth of definitive data. However, it’s very plausible conjecture, it’s totally compatible with the limited facts and with the prevailing circumstance, and unlike the Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19, it fully addresses Paul’s claim that he saw only James and none of the other Apostles.

3. Did Peter lie to Paul at this first meeting?

We now know that this first crucial meeting in Jerusalem set in motion a train of events that eventually changed the world. We accept Paul visited Peter to tell him about his own dramatic life-changing experience, and we accept Paul arrived in Jerusalem knowing nothing of an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem prior to his arrival. We also accept Paul left Jerusalem 15 days later, now convinced that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem prior to his arrival. In 1-Corinthians 15:3 Paul actually says “I give you what I was given” and in 1-Corinthians 15:5-7 Paul tells us that Peter and many others saw this resurrected Jesus shortly after his crucifixion.

Thus we can safely conclude that Paul learned of the Jerusalem resurrection whilst staying with Peter. The Orthodox narrative insists he learned of Jesus’ resurrection from Peter and James, but we’ve already demonstrated that James’ alleged presence at this crucial meeting is little more than wishful thinking. That said, we can now reasonably suggest that Peter himself told Paul about the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem.  But did Peter tell Paul the truth? There’s no reliable independent evidence to validate Peter’s resurrection claim, and the forgery in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews suggests there never was any reliable independent evidence. Some more traditional apologists claim the Gospels validate Peter’s claim, but the Gospels cannot be used to validate Peter’s claim because these Gospels are based on Peter’ claim. Other less traditional apologists claim Peter’s alleged martyrdom in Rome validates Peter’s claim, but this alleged martyrdom is still unproven [see Chapter 7]. Thus we can reasonably suggest that Peter did just lie to Paul about an alleged resurrection that never happened? We can readily justify this outrageous suggestion by demonstrating why Peter was well motivated to lie to Paul.

  • Paul’s unexpected arrival in Jerusalem left Peter feeling very disturbed and Paul had great difficulty persuading Peter that he was no longer a threat, and even more difficulty persuading Peter that he was now a fellow Apostle, one specially chosen by Jesus himself. Peter eventually accepted Paul’s assurance that he was no longer a threat and even accepted Paul’s claim that he had met Jesus three years earlier, but Peter found it impossible to accept Paul’s claim that he was now a fellow Apostle, one specially chosen by Jesus himself. Paul was a wealthy well educated Roman citizen, whereas Peter was just an illiterate peasant fisherman from Galilee, and both Paul’s vast superiority, and his claim that he was now a special Apostle, posed a very serious threat, both to Peter’s authority as a patriarch of the local Jerusalem Church, and to his comfortable lifestyle financed by the Jewish tithe system. Faced with this serious threat to his authority and comfortable life style, Peter simply told Paul that he and many others had already seen the risen Jesus in Jerusalem well before Paul saw him three years ago. This simple ploy underlined Peter’s own authority, downgraded Paul’s status and neutralized Paul’s threat.

Thus simple self preservation motivated Peter to lie to Paul about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened, and we can reasonably suggest that Paul’s own similar experience, three years prior to his arrival in Jerusalem, made him very receptive to Peter’s lies. We can also reasonably suggest that, having lied about this alleged resurrection in Jerusalem, Peter then took steps to ensure Paul met nobody else whilst he was in Jerusalem. This very plausible scenario is totally compatible with the known facts. It also offers a plausible reason why in 1-Corinthians 15:8, Paul makes a point of saying:

“and last of all he appeared to me also, as one abnormally born.”

However, we should note that, just like the earlier “James just popped in but didn’t stay” scenario, this “Peter just lied to Paul” scenario is pure speculative conjecture, forcibly made in response to the dearth of definitive data. It does, however, produce exactly the same final outcome as the Orthodox narrative, and unlike the equally speculative Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19, it does fully address Paul’s claim that he saw none of the other Apostles whilst staying with Peter.

Admittedly, both of the above postulated scenarios are pure speculative conjecture, but we should note the following:

  • The Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19 is just speculative conjecture driven by necessity, and it fails to address both of Paul’s claims. The above scenarios are both plausible and compatible with the facts, and they address both of Paul’s claims.
  • Both scenarios are compatible with Peter’s background as a simple illiterate peasant fisherman from Galilee, and both scenarios are compatible with the lack of incontrovertible evidence corroborating Peter’s claims.
  • The two scenarios produce exactly the same final outcome as the Orthodox narrative, because in both narratives, Paul arrives in Jerusalem unaware of any resurrection in Jerusalem, and he leaves Jerusalem 15 days later believing Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem prior to his own arrival in Jerusalem.

Conclusions

Given the above considerations, we can now say the following with some confidence:

  • James’ alleged presence at this crucial first meeting is an essential element of the Orthodox narrative, but Paul’s claims in Galatians 1:19 do not prove definitively that James was effectively present at this meeting.
  • The Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19 circumvents any suggestion that Paul’s entire knowledge of the Jerusalem resurrection is based entirely on Peter’s uncorroborated hearsay claims
  • The Orthodox interpretation of Galatians 1:19 is an unjustified speculative interpretation that smacks of blatant confirmation bias driven by necessity.

Given the paucity of definitive evidence surrounding Paul’s first crucial meeting in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE, we can now reasonably postulate the following:

  • James was not present at this crucial first meeting.
  • Paul’s entire knowledge of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem was gained directly from Peter, and Peter alone.
  • Peter simply lied to Paul about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem that never happened.

References:

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.” Southeastern Theological Review 3:1 (Summer 2012): 15-26.

Well that’s Part 1 of this series. I look forward to evidence-based counter arguments justifying the Orthodox assertion that James was actually present at this crucial meeting in Jerusalem. Just leave a relevant link to the counter argument in the comments section.

Part 2 of this series will address the veracity of the Orthodox assertion that Galatians 2:6 proves Paul preached the same Gospel message as the other Apostles. Those interested in Gary Habermas’ apologetic argument, can watch it here: I draw your attention to his claims concerning Galatians 1:19 [38 minutes in] and Galatians 2:6 [45 minutes in].

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5znVUFHqO4Q&w=640&h=360

One thought on “Was Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem? – Part 1

  1. This is quite good. It also goes toward why no one noticed the supposed events around the cruxifiction and how it became such a fish story with piles of ridiculous events building up around it.

    Like

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