Gary Habermas on the Pre-Pauline Creed of 1 Cor. 15

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1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is widely recognized by New Testament scholars as a statement of belief (creed) that was systematized long before Paul quoted it.  If so, it represents the earliest historical account of Jesus’ resurrection, and goes back to the eyewitnesses themselves.  Gary Habermas comments on the very early date of this creed, which even skeptical scholars acknowledge.

Do critical scholars agree on the date of this pre-Pauline creed?  Even radical scholars like Gerd Lüdemann think that “the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion . . . no later than three years after the death of Jesus.”  Similarly, Michael Goulder contends that Paul’s testimony about the resurrection appearances “goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.”

An increasing number of exceptionally influential scholars have very recently concluded that at least the teaching of the resurrection, and perhaps even the specific formulation of the pre-Pauline creedal tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, dates to AD 30!  In other words, there never was a time when the message of Jesus’ resurrection was not an integral part of the earliest apostolic proclamation.  No less a scholar than James D. G. Dunn even states regarding this crucial text: “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’ death.

— Gary Habermas, “Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts,” God is Great, God is Good (InterVarsity Press, 2009), 212.

For the sources quoted by Habermas, see here at Google Books.  For more on the pre-Pauline creed, see here.

This early dating seriously damages claims of long periods of time when legends about Jesus supposedly developed and became part of Christian proclamation.  It also puts to rest unfounded speculations about the purported role pagan mythology played as source material for Jesus’ resurrection.  William Lane Craig soundly critiques that position here.

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Does Religion Promote Dissension and Conflict?

Temple of St Vladimir. It was turned to bus st...
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It can, and sometimes does, but so does politics, ideology, race, and gender.  Atheists often caricature religion as the most corrosive force on earth, but as Alister McGrath points out, this is sociologically and historically naive.

Suppose [Richard] Dawkins’s dream were to come true, and religion were to disappear.  Would that end the divisions within humanity and the violence that ensues from them?  Certainly not.  Such divisions are ultimately social constructs which reflect the fundamental sociological need for communities to self-define and identify those who are “in” and those who are “out,” those who are “friends,” and those who are “foes.”

. . . . A series of significant binary oppositions are held to have shaped Western thought—such as “male-female” and “white-black.”  Binary opposition leads to the construction of the category of “the other”—the devalued half of a binary opposition—when applied to groups of people.  Group identity is often fostered by defining “the other”—as, for example, in Nazi Germany with its opposition “Aryan-Jew.”

. . . . The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive.  It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings.  If religion were to cease to exist, other social demarcators would emerge as decisive . . . [As they did, for example, during the French Revolution and in the Soviet Union.]

Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society, has made the significant point that religions were implicated in some human tragedies such as holy wars.  While rightly castigating these—a criticism which I gladly endorse—Shermer goes on to emphasize that there is clearly a significant positive side to religion:

“For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported . . . . Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil.”

— Alister McGrath, “Is Religion Evil,” God is Great, God is Good (IVP, 2009), 129-131.

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Quotable — God and Objective Morality

“If evil truly exists, what we could call ‘objective evil’ — then there also exist objective moral values, moral values which are binding on all people, whether they acknowledge them as such or not.  If rape, racism, torture, murder, government-sanctioned genocide and so forth are objectively evil, what makes them so?  What makes them truly evil, rather than simply activities we dislike?  What made the atrocities of the Nazis evil, even though Hitler and his thugs maintained otherwise?  One cannot consistently affirm both that there are no objective moral values, on the one hand, and that rape, torture and the like are objectively morally evil on the other.  If there are objective moral values, there must be some basis — some metaphysical foundation — for their being so. . . .

But [you] can’t have [your] cake and eat it too.  If good and evil are objectively real, they need an objective foundation.  No atheist has provided one, and it’s doubtful that one will be forthcoming.  We can put the problem concisely:

(1) If moral notions such as good and evil exist objectively, then there must be an objective foundation for their existence.

(2) Atheism offers no objective basis for the existence of moral notions such as good and evil.

(3) Therefore, for the atheist, moral notions such as good and evil must not objectively exist.”

— Chad Meister, “God, Evil, and Morality,” God is Great, God is Good, 109, 115.

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Quotable – Why Mental States Are Not Physical (Brain) States

  • There is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain. [No physical state has this quality]
  • Many mental states have intentionality—ofness or aboutness—directed toward an object (e.g., a thought is about the moon).  [A physical state can’t be of or about anything]
  • Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them. [No physical state is private or limited to one individual’s perception]
  • Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language). [A thought, for example, doesn’t occupy space, possess mass, or obey the laws of physics]

J. P. Moreland, “The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism,” in God is Great, God is Good (IVP 2009), p. 38.

Thus, mental states cannot be merely physical events in the brain.  The better explanation for these qualities of mental events is a substantial self that transcends the physical world – i.e., a soul.


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