Dennis MacDonald vs. Mike Licona – The Resurrection of Jesus Debate: (2021)
A little background on Dennis MacDonald:
Dennis R. MacDonald received his PhD from Harvard University in 1978 and taught New Testament and Christian origins at Goshen College, the Iliff School of Theology, and the Claremont School of Theology. From 1999-2010 he served as the director of The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont Graduate University. He also has been a visiting professor at the Harvard Divinity School, Union Theological Seminary, Florida State University, and Yonsei University (South Korea).
Dr. MacDonald retired from teaching in 2015 and during his career and retirement has written several books documenting the widespread influence of ancient Greek literature on the composition of the New Testament. He proposes that this mimetic approach should serve as a paradigm shift in New Testament studies because it shifts the focus from the New Testament authors as mere editors to ones who were creative imitators of the Greek epic literature.
MythVision has an interview with him on how he left Christianity.
MacDonald’s opening in the debate:
I’m a historian. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a preacher and my goal is the same as Dr Lincoln. I want to deal with the evidence and I want to deal with it as a historian.
He doesn’t even know who he’s debating. It’s Dr Licona, not Dr Lincoln.
And then I’m going to make some conclusions that answers the question why did early Christians what did they mean when they said God raised Jesus. By the way the language in the New Testament is almost always consistent that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is a passive.
Sure, that would be correct. Jesus did not raise himself from the dead, but God did.
This is the text that the professor Lincoln mentioned and so I won’t deal with it again except to say what the Corinthians meant by it is that the soul of Jesus was seen being liberated from his body.
He again misstates Licona’s name.
MacDonald claims Paul believed Jesus was only raised spiritually, not bodily.
What’s more important is that Paul did not believe it was a bodily resurrection, a physical bodily resurrection. For him it was a spiritual body. And he insists that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God. And I’ll run over this. I agree with my colleague on that, but the point is neither the Corinthians nor Paul interpreted the tradition cited in first Corinthians 15:3-8 to mean that God raised Jesus’s physical body. Got that? The Corinthians thought it was Jesus’s soul liberated from the body and Paul thought it was a spiritual body.
His main argument is 1 Cor 15:3-8 is not reliable. But he does not bring up any evidence to justify the passage is not reliable and Paul believed in a purely spiritual resurrection.
His argues about the differences between the gospel accounts and Paul’s accounts and the gospels added fictional narrative.
My argument this evening is going to be in these bullet points. I’m going to be interested in whether the gospel accounts of Jesus’s resurrection conforms to what we find in Paul. And we’re going to find that it doesn’t at all. The two earliest gospels explicitly rejected the view that Jesus appeared to anyone after his death. That’s the Q document and Mark. The gospel of Matthew altered Mark by adding an appearance to the eleven not to the twelve disciples in Galilee. Luke added extensive narratives of Jesus’s corporeal appearances in Jerusalem but not Galilee as is in Matthew. And he created his stories by imitating the last book of the Odyssey crafted stories of appearances to the Magdalene and doubting Thomas by imitating Luke’s imitation the gospels.
The gospels call into question the historical reliability of the tradition first Corinthians 15:3-8. So what? One should read the gospel resurrection narratives not as collaborating historical reports but as creative literary fictions to makes God’s vindication of Jesus’s message and career meaningful to later diverse social and political challenges.
He appeals to the hypothetical document Q as his evidence.
This is the lost gospel Q which I have attempted and others have attempted to recreate. Many of you may be Q skeptics but you’ll hear in what I’m going to read words that appear also in Matthew and Luke.
Yes, there are common passages in Matthew and Luke, but there can be a variety of ways to explain it. Yes, it could all come from a common ancestor. But Luke also could’ve used Matthew as a source. Further, there is no extrabiblical evidence to point to the existence of a Q document.
I don’t question all the gospels could’ve used other sources, but we don’t know how many sources they used. Also, we don’t know if those sources are textual or oral sources.
Then the gospel of Mark the earliest surviving gospel is the one attributed to Mark written soon after the Jewish war.
It’s debateable when Mark was written. It could’ve been before 70 AD or after 70 AD. If you read Mark with a naturalistic perspective, one would have to interpret the prophetic statements as writings after those events had occurred. But without a naturalistic view, they can be taken as face value and are written as predictions of future events.[Mar 13:2 KJV] 2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
He points out discrepancies in the gospel accounts and therefore discounts them as not reliable accounts.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus appears to 11 disciples in Galilee and he clearly is correcting Mark. So here’s what Mark wrote they left and pled these are the women from the tomb for trembling in confusion sorry had seized them they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid but Matthew corrects it they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples and Jesus then appears to them and repeats the message and they do go the disciples do go to Galilee and receive the great commission.
None of this in my view has historical value except to tell us about Matthew’s church.
As I’ve argued before, text can be errant and still be considered a reliable source.
And if MacDonald views the gospels as unreliable, what does that make the hypothetical Q document since it contains verbatim text with the gospels?
Paul in first Corinthians 15 says flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God Jesus says body is a spiritual body. But in Luke Jesus himself says handle me and look a mere spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have and he actually ate he lived with the disciples for 40 days in Jerusalem and then had a bodily ascension. Luke and Paul disagree and that’s all the more amazing because Luke knows first Corinthians apparently and he never says anything about the appearance to 500.
They only disagree because MacDonald claims Paul only believed in a spiritual resurrection. Paul did not believe in that.
Yes, Paul used the word “spiritual” to describe the resurrection, but he also used the word “body” (soma).[1Co 15:44 KJV] 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
The resurrected body is somehow both physical and spiritual. It is something that is altogether different.[1Co 15:49 KJV] 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
It is a body that has immortal properties.[1Co 15:53 KJV] 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality.
As for nobody else mentioning the 500 witnesses, yes, I would agree that could be fictional, either Paul was exaggerating or he got his information incorrectly.
He presents his theory the gospels were imitating Homer.
And here’s my own dactylic examiner imitation of Homer gospel text seldom retain memories of actual events more often than not they contain mimesis of seminal texts. Mimesis is simply the greek word for imitation and the book that was most imitated in classical antiquity was the Homeric epic the Iliad and the Odyssey and people learned in school how to compose by taking themes in Homer and rewriting them in prose.
This is an interesting theory. Yes, it’s an argument used by skeptics the gospels were based on preexisting myths and stories. J Warner Wallace counters this charge in Person of Interest. He argues all other myths were preparing for the message of Jesus. In a sense, all other myths are predictions and indicators of Jesus. And in the words of CS Lewis, Christianity is the true myth.
But what the mimesis theory cannot account for is the Shroud of Turin. Is there any artifact that Greek myths have left?
So little historical confirmation in the gospels for the Pauline tradition.
With the TS, we have artifact confirmation of the Pauline tradition.
The Corinthians interpreted 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 and his appearance to the 12 as proof that Jesus says see his soul had successfully escaped his soma, his body. Paul insisted that Jesus’s spiritual body was raised not one with flesh and blood.
Again I disagree. The entire chapter of 1 Cor 15 disputes this as well as the gospel accounts.
Here’s my conclusion. Jesus had defiantly denounced the religious and political elites who oppressed the social marginal. As a result of his success as a social radical he suffered an ignominious crucifixion. His followers could not imagine that his God would allow his death to terminate his mission or legacy and they all in various ways affirmed that God vindicated Jesus and his career so his mission could be continued. But no one would have been more shocked that Jesus rose from the dead than he.
Yes, Jesus defended the socially marginal. Yes, he was crucified.
There is no evidence the disciples afterwards had much hope in Jesus’s message after he died. At the moment they realized Jesus was not going to reign in power and overthrow the Roman government, they left him. Fear and disappointment characterized the disciples, not a desire to continue his mission. And why would they decide to carry on his mission by borrowing a Roman myth? No Jew thinks this way and no Jew would’ve accepted their message if it was. The only reasonable thing that could’ve transformed their abandonment was a powerful miracle to change their minds. And that was his literal resurrection from the dead.