Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
212 Pages

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?



[This] is the most important question regarding the claims of the Christian faith. Certainly no question in modern religious history demands more attention or interest, as witnessed by the vast body of literature dealing with the Resurrection. James I. Packer says it well in his response to this debate:
'When Christians are asked to make good their claim that this scheme is truth, they point to Jesus' resurrection. The Easter event, so they affirm, demonstrated Jesus' deity; validated his teaching; attested to the completion of his work of atonement for sin; confirms his present cosmic dominion and coming reappearance as Judge; assures us that his personal pardon, presence, and power in people's lives today is fact; and guarantees each believer's own reembodiment by Resurrection in the world to come.'
The Apostle Paul considered the Resurrection to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole structure, Christianity, collapses. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17, 'And if Christ has not been raised, 'our preaching is useless and so is you faith.' More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile [emphasis added].' The Christian faith-and its claim to be Truth-exists only if Jesus rose from the dead. The heart of Christianity is a living Christ.



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DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD? Gary R. Habermas, Antony G. N. Flew
and Terry L. Miethe
The Resurrection Debate
Eugene, Oregon Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3
Eugene, Oregon 97401

Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?
The Resurrection Debate
By Habermas, Gary R., Flew, Antony G.N., and Miethe, Terry M.L.
Copyright©1987 by Habermas, Gary R. and Flew, Antony G.N.
ISBN: 1-59244-431-8
Publication date 12/4/2003
Previously published by Harper & Row, 1987
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations herein are from the Revised
Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, 1971 by the
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches
of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. To Britain, Parker, Emerson, Ian Miethe; and Robert, Michelle, Holly,
and Kevin Habermas with much love, in the hope that they will become
tough-minded and love the truth Contents
Preface Terry L. Miethe ix
Introduction Roy Abraham Varghese xiv
Part One: The Formal Debate
Negative Statement: Antony G. N. Flew 3
Affirmative Gary R. Habermas 15
Rebuttal: Flew 33 Habermas 39
Head to Head: Habermas-Flew 49
Question and Answer Period 61
Part Two: The Continuing Debate
Discussion: 75
Antony G. N. Flew 75
Gary R. Habermas 76
Terry L. Miethe 75
W. David Beck 80
Part Three: Response to the Debate
W olfhart Pannenberg 125
Charles Hartshorne 137
James I. Packer 143 viii / CONTENTS
Part Four: A Final Response
Some Final Thoughts on the Resurrection:
Gary R. Habermas 153
Select Bibliography 185
Contributor Biographies 189 Preface
In parallel with the recent resurgence of rational theism in science and
philosophy, mainstream New Testament scholarship has moved away
from dogmatic skepticism to a nuanced understanding of the earliest
Christian traditions and narratives. Among the more remarkable
features of this latter trend is what we might call the intellectual
resurrection of the Resurrection story. After languishing in the outer
darkness of the Enlightenment, this “brute fact” that is fundamental to
any possibility of coherent Christianity is back on the agenda of
scholarly inquiry.
Three theologians have helped drive this dramatic turnabout:
• Hans von Campenhausen who in 1952 defended the historical
basis of the empty tomb claim (“The Events of Easter and the
Empty Tomb”);
• Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of Germany’s leading theologians,
who argued in 1968 (Jesus – God and Man) that based on the
evidence for the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus it is
possible to rationally conclude that Jesus’ resurrection from
the dead took place in history; and
• N.T. Wright whose epochal 2003 work The Resurrection of
the Son of God ties together the historical arguments in favor
of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
We might say that these thinkers, along with numerous others, laid the
historical and theological groundwork for a rational appraisal of the
evidence for the Resurrection.
But just as relevant as the historical and theological frames of reference
are the philosophical starting-points. And this is precisely where Didx / PREFACE
Jesus Rise from the Dead? by Gary Habermas, Antony Flew, and
Terry Miethe makes an important contribution. The classic argument
against miracles and in particular the Resurrection came from the
British empiricist David Hume. And, as is well known, Antony Flew is
the most influential contemporary proponent of Hume’s philosophy of
religion. His interlocutor here is Gary Habermas, one of the premier
modern expositors of the intellectual case for the historical bodily
resurrection of Christ. It was Terry Miethe, a noted philosopher and
theologian, who came up with the idea for the debate and he
participated in it. Although the book was first published in 1986, the
points at issue are not substantially different from the Habermas-Flew
debate of April 2000.
Three central issues loom over any discussion of the Resurrection
• What event or events triggered off the Christian “movement”
(if we might call it that) by transforming the first Christians?
• What lies behind the claims of appearances of the risen
• How do you account for the empty tomb of Christ (assuming,
of course, that he was laid in a tomb and the tomb was found
to be empty)?
In the present debate, Habermas answers these questions by listing
twelve resurrection-related events, eleven of which are generally
accepted as “knowable history,” then pointing out that naturalistic
explanations of the resurrection are now generally thought to have
failed and, finally, laying out ten positive evidences for the
resurrection. The four facts at the heart of his argument are “Jesus’
death due to crucifixion, the subsequent experiences that the disciples
were convinced were literal appearances of the risen Jesus, the
corresponding transformation of these men, and Paul’s conversion
experience, which he also believed was an appearance of the risen
In presenting the skeptical position, Antony Flew expounds three
• The only real eyewitness account of an appearance of Christ is
that of Paul and this seems to be of a “spiritual” body and
“seeing spiritual bodies is indiscernible from having visions to PREFACE / xi
which no mind-independent realities correspond.” In fact,
there is no difference between such an individual vision and a
hallucination – although admittedly it would not be aif more than one person saw the same vision at
the same time.
• All of the accounts of the resurrection are found only in
canonical books like the Gospels (which are disqualified given
that their authors are “interested parties”) not in the works of
any contemporary historians
• The claims of resurrection at best concern visions of some
kind of an astral body.
Along the way he makes a few major concessions:
• He holds that Hume was mistaken in several of his theses on
miracles and states that he (Flew) would not “rule out the
occurrence of miracles a priori or by definition.”
• He rejects the collective hallucination theory: “I have always
understood that mass or collective hallucinations really cannot
• He doesn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty.
But what he gives with one hand he takes away with the other because
he reiterates that all resurrection claims other than that of Paul are
second-hand and therefore unreliable: “I do not think that we have
adequate evidence that all the twelve did see anything collectively.”
Since Paul’s resurrection account centers on a “spiritual” body, it can
be regarded as a “vision” – which, in his view, is not very different
from a hallucination.
Habermas responds that Paul cites an “eyewitness report of
appearances of Jesus to the twelve [apostles] simultaneously.”
Moreover, “critical scholars have attested that one of the strongest facts
in early Christian history is that the earliest disciples, the original
eyewitnesses, believed that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them.”
Again, he asserts that within 100 to 150 years from the birth of Christ
there are “approximately eighteen non-Christian writers who record
more than one hundred events from the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus, and the beliefs of the earliest Christians.” On the hallucination
hypothesis, he notes, “the disciples’ experiences disprove thexii / PREFACE
hallucination and other subjective theories because such phenomena are
not collective or contagious, being observed by one person alone and
taking place at a wide variety of times and places. The psychological
preconditions for hallucinations are also lacking.” Again, the spiritual
body that Paul saw of Jesus is not different from the Gospel accounts of
Jesus “raised in a spiritual body. It was his real body, but it was
changed, including new, spiritual qualities.” Interestingly, in his own
analysis of the matter, Wright argues strongly that Paul’s notion of a
“spiritual body” concerns a body “animated by the spirit” after
Resurrection – not an immaterial body.
At the end of the day, it would seem that Flew’s insistence on getting
direct testimonies from each of the eyewitnesses is a red herring that
holds no promise of advancing the discussion. Even if all the
eyewitnesses had laid out their individual accounts of encountering the
Risen Christ, the skeptic could continue to maintain that these were
“spiritual” visions with no objective referent. Moreover the absence of
contemporaneous third-party (non-Christian) accounts of the
resurrection shouldn’t ipso facto rule out the relevance of the available
documents. After all, it is to be expected that, in the earliest stages of
the chronology of some extraordinary event, only those with immediate
access to the event in question could or would testify to it.
What should be sought is an explanation for the genesis and growth of
the Christian movement. As Habermas puts it, “the pivotal point in this
discussion is the cause of the disciples’ faith.” Other than the Gospel
tradition, several competing options, ranging from hoax to
hallucination, have been proposed by thinkers for the last two thousand
years. None of these alternative theories have outlasted the lifetimes of
their progenitors and Flew doesn’t even bother to defend any of them
or offer one of his own. When asked by Terry Miethe if he felt that any
naturalistic theory could account for the Easter story, he replies, “I
doubt it.” He says simply that “there are an enormous lot of things that
we simply haven’t got the evidence to know about” and the resurrection
claims fall under this category.
But we cannot ignore the question of how the whole Christian Idea
arose. The primordial “announcement” of the Gospel narratives and
the Pauline corpus is the proposition that Christ has risen from the
dead. As evidence for this announcement, the tradition cites the PREFACE / xiii
variegated resurrection accounts in the Gospels and epistles as well as
Acts. Collectively, they serve as the enduring basis for affirming the
Resurrection event. Are they consistent and plausible and sufficient in
and of themselves to ground the conviction that Christ has risen from
the dead?
As Habermas has shown, many contemporary scholars who have done
specialized work in this area now accept the historicity of the
Resurrection. Curiously, Flew never seems to engage the opposition at
this fundamental level either in the discussion recorded here or his later
(2000) debate with Habermas. This is a pity because as N.T. Wright
asks in The Resurrection of the Son of God, the question to be
answered is “Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly, with such power,
and why did believers risk everything to teach that Jesus really rose?”
The best explanation, in his view, is that “Jesus’ tomb was discovered
empty on Easter morning” and “Jesus then appeared to his followers
alive in bodily form.”
At any rate, this debate between Flew and Habermas is an invaluable
and distinctive contribution to the study of Christian origins. The
reader is left with a clear-cut overview of the “hard facts,” hypothetical
possibilities and intellectual choices opened up by a serious
investigation of the Resurrection claims. As Flew notes at the end, “It
seems to me that the great point of this exercise is that we have had a
sort of confrontation from which one hopes discussion will continue.”
In this respect the book will serve as a useful philosophical complement
to the historico-theological breakthroughs achieved by von
Campenhausen, Pannenberg and Wright. This is especially important
because “the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most significant topic
of our day. Of course Christians since Paul have made that claim,
because they have been convinced that it proved Jesus’ deity and the
efficacy of his death for our sins.”
We owe a special debt of gratitude to Professor Terry L. Miethe for
initiating and organizing the original debate, editing the material into
this volume and continuing to stimulate discussion of this most vital of
Roy Abraham Varghese
Easter 2004Introduction
It has been 18 years since this debate was conducted
before thousands of people. The question of whether Jesus of
Nazareth rose bodily from the grave is, and always will be, the
most important question in history. If He did, then all of history,
and most importantly each and every person's daily life should,
must be effected by this fact. If Jesus did not rise from the dead,
then Christianity is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind
and it should be exposed for the great hoax it is! Over the
centuries many have tried to do just that, expose it. But none
have succeeded.
"Did Jesus rise from the dead?" is the most important
question regarding the claims of the Christian faith. Certainly no
question in modern religious history demands more attention or
interest, as witnessed by the vast body of literature dealing with
ithe Resurrection. James I Packer says it well in his response to
this debate:
When Christians are asked to make good their claim that this
scheme is truth, they point to Jesus' Resurrection. The Easter event, so
they affirm, demonstrated Jesus' deity; validated his teaching; attested
the completion of his work of atonement for sin; confirms his present
cosmic dominion and his coming reappearance as Judge; assures us that
his personal pardon, presence, and power in people's lives today is fact;INTRODUCTION / xv
and guarantees each believer's own reembodiment by Resurrection in
the world to come.
The Apostle Paul considered the Resurrection to be the
cornerstone of the Christian faith. If Jesus did not rise from the
dead, the whole structure, Christianity itself, collapses. Paul
tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17,
And if Christ has not be raised, our preaching is useless and so
is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses
about God…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile
[emphasis added].
The Christian faith - and its claim to be Truth - exists only if
Jesus rose form the dead. The heart of Christianity is a living
Christ. "It is in the Risen One that the whole life of mankind
ultimately comes to a decision. The ultimate decision however,
is that between life and death. The word of the resurrection of
iiJesus is the assault of life upon a dying world."
Our debaters echo the importance of the question. Antony
G.N. Flew says in his opening remarks in the debate:
We [Habermas and I] both construe resurrection, or rising from
the dead, in a thoroughly literal and physical way…. We are again
agreed that the question whether, in that literal understanding, Jesus did
rise form the dead is of supreme theoretical and practical importance.
For the knowable fact that he did, if indeed it is a knowable fact, is the
best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Israel…. We are agreed both that that
identification is the defining and distinguishable characteristic of the
true Christian, and that it is scarcely possible to make it without also
accepting that the Resurrection did literally happen.
Having thus established the importance of the question and
that the debaters agree on its importance, perhaps a word about
how the debate came to be would be appropriate. I have been
familiar with my friend Tony Flew's work, especially God andxvi / INTRODUCTION
Philosophy, since my early days in seminary when a professor of
mine required in his Analytic Philosophy class that every
student, as a term assignment, present a critique of Flew's book.
It had been my hope, then, for more than fifteen years [as of
1986] to see Flew debate the subject of the possibility of
miracles, specifically the evidence for the historicity of the
Resurrection. My interest in this topic continues 18 years after
the original debate. I am still in communication with Tony Flew,
having received three letters within the last week.
In February 1985, Gary R. Habermas and I were invited to
participate in a series of debates, masterminded by Roy Abraham
Varghese, entitled "Christianity Challenges the University: An
International Conference of Theists and Atheists," to be held in
Dallas, Texas. The Object of the conference was to present the
Christian understanding of reality in the international intellectual
community in such a way as to be "forceful and effective as well
iiias intellectually impeccable." This was to be accomplished by
inviting renowned scholars in philosophy, the natural sciences,
the social sciences, the historical foundations of Christianity,
culture, morality, and education to participate in debate via a
panel discussion format.
Antony G. N. Flew was one of the panel participants in
philosophy to represent the atheist position. As the philosophy
panel discussion ended, I leaned over to my dear friend Gary
Habermas and suggested that we take one of the atheist
philosophers out to dinner. I asked Gary his preference for a
dinner guest. He said Antony Flew. I then asked Tony to join us
for dinner. It was my plan then to challenge Tony Flew to a
debate on the question of the Resurrection. Gary knew nothing
of my plan! At dinner Flew, Habermas and I discussed at length
Flew's position regarding the possibility of miracles and the
Resurrection of Jesus in particular. It was agreed by Habermas,
Flew and myself that the Resurrection of Jesus presented the
most important evidence for the historical reality of miracles.INTRODUCTION / xvii
Flew said that he had never adequately addressed this issue in his
writings and indicated interest in doing so. I then challenged
him, to Gary's great surprise, to do so formally in debate with
Habermas and myself.
I then issued a formal invitation to debate "The Historicity
of the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?" to Flew.
Three of the world's major publishers saw the importance of this
debate and were "bidding" against each other to publish it.
Habermas and Flew were to be the primary debaters, with myself
also participating in the discussions. Thus the events that
produced the material for this book were a debate of the
aforementioned subject by Habermas and Flew held on 2 May
1985 and attended by 3000 people, and a continuation of the
debate on 3 May in my home in Virginia. Tony visited us for six
days. As Tony has a very keen interest in the American Civil
War, it was agreed that he would do whatever we asked him with
regard to academic endeavors for three days, if my son and I
would tour Tony around the Civil War sights in Virginia for the
remaining three days. It was agreed!
I must add that Tony Flew is a gentleman's gentleman [but
not of the butler variety]! It was a great pleasure to drive him
around Virginia to the Civil War sights for three days in the
company of my son. While on the road to a Civil War
destination, we stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant
outside of Richmond. Tony joked after dinner with my son that
he could go back to school the next week and tell all his friends
that my son had converted him [Flew] - to "tãkos". Yes, Tony
was a gentleman and I will always remember fondly those road
trips. I will never forget the time with him nor his comment to
me as we drove around in my Volvo: "Terry, why should I
believe a man when he talks to me about 'spiritual things', if I
cannot believe him when he talks to me about earthly things?"
Indeed, personal integrity is in many ways even more important,
at least as a foundation, than what a person says he or shexviii / INTRODUCTION
believes. Nor, will I forget later when Tony came from Reading,
England to speak to my students at Oxford. He has always been
most gracious to me.
All parties agreed, because of the limitations of time, the
demands of the subject, and a belief that the debaters in Dallas
had talked past each other to limit the debate to a single issue,
ivthat of the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. The debate
was not to be concerned with issues such as God's existence,
revelation (such as the Bible), or miracles in general. These
could, however, be addressed in the question and answer session
following the formal debate in my home.
Because Gary Habermas thought that audiences are
perennially interested in whom the experts choose as the winner
of public debate, at his suggestion, we organized two panels of
experts in their respective areas of specialty to render a verdict
on the present subject matter. One panel consisted of five
philosophers, who were instructed to judge the content of the
debate and render a winner. The second panel consisted of five
professional debate judges, who were asked to judge the
argumentation techniques of the debaters. All ten participants
served on the faculties of American universities and colleges
such as the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Virginia,
Western Kentucky University, James Madison University,
George Mason University, Randolph-Macon College (Ashland,
Virginia), and Sweet Briar College, etc. We attempted to choose
persons of a wide spectrum of views and persuasions.
The decisions of our judges were as follows. The panel of
philosophers, judging content, cast four votes for Habermas,
none for Flew, and one draw. One philosophy judge
I was surprised (shocked might be amore accurate word) to see
how weak Flew's own approach was. I expected - if not new and
powerful arguments - at least a distinctly new twist to some oldINTRODUCTION / xix
arguments. Given the conditions under which public debates are often
conducted, many of the finer details of Flew's position do not become
evident until the pages of the book that record the dialogue following
the public debate [Part Two: The Continuing Debate]. By this time, it
becomes clear that even Flew has not rid himself of some of the older,
outdated, and discredited objections to the resurrection. When I
completed my reading of the debate and the following dialogues, I was
left with this conclusion: Since the case against the resurrection was no
stronger than that presented by Antony Flew, I would think it was time
I began to take the resurrection seriously. My conclusion is that Flew
lost the debate and the case for the resurrection won.
Another philosopher commented:
Flew [in defending a point] which he acknowledges to come
ultimately from Hume's First Enquiry, that a miracle can never be
proved in such a way that it can serve as the foundation for any system
of religion…. Flew's success in the debate should be measured by how
well he came out of it with this claim intact, Habermas's by how well
he undermined it…. Habermas at first seemed wrongly to interpret
Flew to be maintaining a naturalistic bias against the ontological
possibility of a miracle…. So, Habermas missed the point … only if an
inconsistency in Flew's position is overlooked. Otherwise, he correctly
unearthed the fact that Flew can hold his ground on this point only by
maintaining a naturalistic bias against the occurrence of a miracle in
spite of his [Flew's] claim not to hold one.
The panel of debate judges voted three to two, also in favor
of Habermas, this time regarding the method of argumentation
technique. One judge noted:
I am of the position that the affirmative speaker [Habermas] has a
very significant burden of proof in order to establish his claims. The
various historical sources convinced me to adopt the arguments of the
affirmative speaker. Dr. Flew, on the other hand, failed, particularly in
the rebuttal period and the head-to-had session, to introduce significant
supporters of his position. Dr. Habermas placed a heavy burden on Dr.
Flew to refute very specific issues. As the rebuttals progressed, I felt
that Dr. Flew tried to skirt the charges give him.xx / INTRODUCTION
Another professional debate judge said:
I conclude that the historical evidence, though flawed, is strong
enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise
from the dead. Habermas has already won the debate…. By defeating
the Hume-inspired skeptical critique on miracles in general offered by
Flew and by demonstrating the strength of some of the historical
evidence, Habermas does end up providing "highly probable evidence"
for the historicity of the resurrection "with no plausible naturalistic
evidence against it." Habermas, therefore, in my opinion, wins the
One of the two professional debate judges who voted for
Flew gave the following reason: "Since most debates are decided
based upon clash of argument and that characteristic was weak in
this debate I hesitate to name a winner. However, given that the
request was to name a winner I … voted for Professor Flew."
And the other debate judge who voted for Flew said: "Flew's
strategy is to restrict his argumentative burden to demonstrating
the scientific/historical inadequacy of theological explanations of
the resurrection stories, rather than proving a contrary
explanation. Winner of debate: Flew." This second judge found
that Habermas's citations of so many scholars kept him from
spending more time on the content of his argument.
The overall decision of the two panels, judging both content
and argumentation technique, was a seven to two decision (with
one draw) in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection as
argued by Habermas. Because of this panel decision, and in my
role as the Editor of the debate, I asked Habermas to write the
reply essay directed to the three internationally known
respondents whose perspectives follow the debate sessions. If
the two panels had chosen Flew as the winner, he would have
been asked to write that essay.INTRODUCTION / xxi
After I communicated with them, I was pleased indeed to
have three such renowned respondents to the debate. Wolfhart
Pannenberg, a German scholar, is one of the world's best-known
theologians. Charles Hartshorne, an American philosopher was
the foremost advocate of process philosophy in the 20th Century
(now deceased). James I. Packer, A British scholar, is one of the
best-known evangelical theologians of our time. Although we
made every possible attempt to find the best-known
representative for every scholarly position toward the
Resurrection, from evangelical to Catholic to Bultmannian,
several scholars were not able to respond because of other time
The decisions regarding the debate should not take the place
of a decision from you, the reader. Each person should study the
arguments, sift the evidence, and decide which case best fits the
facts. This is an area in which the importance of the issue almost
invariably involves the emotions, but the question of truth is the
initial query. Did Jesus rise from the dead? is what this volume
is all about. Of course the issue of the Resurrection of Jesus,
which is the subject of the debate, is more important than the
personalities involved here. The ideas that constitute this
confrontation, and the evidence for them, are the crucial factors
before us. The ultimate decision is yours. Christians believe
that nothing less than the quality of your eternal-life depends on
that decision. On with the debate!
-- Terry L. Miethe
Easter: The festival of the Resurrection of
our Savior and Lord, 2004

i See the Select Bibliography at the end of this book for examples.
ii Walter Kunneth, Theology of the Resurrection (St. Louis, MO: Concordia,
1965), 295.