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If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have spoke of it in 1 Cor. 15.

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  • If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have spoke of it in 1 Cor. 15.

    I’d like to thank my opponent, GnarlyOcelot, for inviting me to debate him on this topic. I look forward to the challenge.

    I’m going to try and convince you that if Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have used it as an argument in 1 Cor. 15. The fact that he didn’t, will then lead us through a straightforward modus tollens to the conclusion that Paul didn’t believe in the empty tomb. We may then formally state my argument as follows:

    1. If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have employed it as an argument in 1 Cor. 15.

    2. Paul did not employ the empty tomb as an argument in 1 Cor. 15.

    3. Therefore, Paul did not believe in the empty tomb.

    Before proceeding to my motivation for the argument, I’d like to clarify a few things.

    First, there is an ambiguity in the phrase ‘did not believe.’ It could either mean that Paul was aware of the empty tomb belief, and rejected it, or it could mean he wasn’t even aware of it and therefore lacked belief in it.

    Accepting my argument needn’t commit you to either, I prefer to say something like “If he was aware of it, he obviously didn’t believe in it.”
    Second, by ‘empty tomb’ I’m referring to the content of the following proposition:

    (4) Jesus’ body remained in Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb until God raised him from the dead, the empty tomb he left behind was then discovered shortly thereafter by a group of his women followers.

    Now then, let’s assess the premises and see what they’re worth.

    Premise (1):

    I find the easiest way to motivate this premise is to first identify Paul’s primary purpose in writing 1 Cor. 15, and then discern whether the empty tomb is something he’d make use of for that primary purpose if he was aware of it.

    It seems rather clear to me that the *reason* Paul wrote 1 Cor. 15 was to refute a notion Paul believed some folks within the Corinthian Church were asserting.

    1 Cor. 15:12, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (NASB, all biblical citations will be from NASB)

    It’s unclear to me whether Paul knew someone within the Church was actually saying this or whether he’s simply addressing hypothetical interlocutors as a literary device.

    Anyways, Paul seems to hurl all kinds of arguments against this contention throughout the 58 verses of 1 Cor. 15. In fact, I counted 7 reductio ad absurdum arguments in 1 Cor. 15, and I’m sure there are more. i.e., Paul attempts to refute this belief by showing all the absurdities that result from it if it were true.

    Verses 35-49 clearly illustrate the point in Paul’s writing 1 Cor. 15. There you’ll find a discussion in answer to v. 35’s question: “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Clearly, Paul thought some within the Corinthian community were really struggling with the idea of bodily resurrection. So, I take it that this was Paul’s primary purpose here.

    Would the empty tomb have served this end? I think we can all agree that it would. It seems easy to imagine the Paul of Gal. 1 (in his scathing manner) ridiculing the dissenters of Corinth by challenging them to explain where Jesus’ body went, since there is no resurrection of the dead.

    A few lines ago, I stated that I think we can all agree that the empty tomb could serve Paul’s primary purpose. I include my opponent in this as well. He might completely agree that this information would be useful; but, disagree on what Paul’s primary purpose was here. Or, he might agree that the empty tomb would assist Paul’s endeavors and that Paul’s primary purpose was to convince some Corinthians of the resurrection of the dead; but, say it would be superfluous given the material Paul already included in 1 Cor. 15.

    In trying to motivate (1), I need to interact with the latter claim. This is because if the inclusion of the empty tomb would be superfluous given Paul’s other points, showing that the empty tomb would be of value (perhaps even great value) to Paul’s primary purpose would hardly motivate the claim that if he believed in it, he would’ve included it in 1 Cor. 15.

    I think 1 Cor. 15 itself best refutes the idea that employing the empty tomb as an argument would be superfluous. This is because Paul utilizes so many arguments in this one chapter; we might as well level the same objection against any one of them. For example, if it’s thought that the alleged post-mortem appearances to the 12 Apostles constitute sufficient argument to refute the Corinthian’s claim, then most of 1 Cor. 15 is superfluous.

    No, Paul gives the impression that he’s pulling every trick out of the bag to defeat these Corinthians.

    And wouldn’t talk of the empty tomb have bolstered the alleged post-mortem appearances to the 12 Apostles anyways? Especially in view of 1 Cor. 15:42-44:

    “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

    Paul could’ve clearly illustrated the continuity between the corpse of Jesus rotting in Joseph’s tomb, and the glorified body cruising around the Judean hills.

    I believe the foregoing sufficiently demonstrates that the empty tomb would have been of great value to Paul here, at least enough value that if he believed it, he would have employed it as an argument.

    Premise (2):

    Did Paul employ the empty tomb as an argument? No. He makes no mention of a tomb, or Joseph of Arimathea.

    He does mention Jesus’ burial in v. 4. But, this, by itself, doesn’t indicate where Jesus was buried, or whether his burial place was discovered empty. Thus, this surely does not constitute reason to think Paul believed in the (i) empty (ii) tomb. Further, we actually have reason to think Jesus wouldn’t have been buried in a tomb.

    “The Romans normally preferred that the bodies of the condemned criminals rot on crosses, but biblical law, respected by all the Jewish sects (including the chief priests), prohibited this final indignity, demanding burial by sunset (Deut 21:23)…Thus Brown is certain that pious Jews, given their views of burial, would not have allowed Jesus to go unburied. “The only surprise,” Davies and Allison note (on Matt 27:60), is that Joseph buries Jesus in a family tomb rather than a criminals’ burial plot.” – Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009. p. 226

    I agree with Davies and Allison, the Gospel account of Jesus’ burial in a family tomb is shocking, given near universal Jewish practice at the time. Criminals (and for financial reasons, the poor) were to be buried in the ground.

    Jesus was charged with Blasphemy, punishable by death, meaning whoever the pious Jew was that buried Jesus, he would’ve tried to bury Jesus with the other criminals.

    As to the Gospel account of this burial, given that the Sabbath began at the sundown of the day which Joseph of Arimathea (or some other Jew(s)) buried Jesus, it makes sense that Joseph of Arimathea (or some Jew(s)) went to Pilate to get Jesus’ body and store it temporarily. (They can’t work on the Sabbath remember?) This way the Jewish law was fulfilled that Jesus was buried by sunset, and when the Sabbath finally ended, he could relocate the body to the criminal graveyard. (Meaning Jesus would’ve finally been buried Saturday)

    Either way, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus was buried in a tomb. Paul is generally acknowledged to have had impressive knowledge of Jewish law, and so it’s best to interpret him as believing Jesus probably wasn’t buried in a tomb unless we have very good reason to think otherwise.

    But, even if you reject all of my argumentation here about Paul’s use of ‘burial’ as not referring to burial in a tomb (etc.), the most important point is that 1 Cor. 15 simply does not employ the empty tomb as an argument, much less even mention the empty tomb.

    So, premise (2) is more than secure.


    It seems reasonable then to believe both premises of the argument and therefore to regard its conclusion as true.
    Last edited by Perplexity; 02-23-12, 11:11 AM.
    "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

    "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche

  • #2
    My goal is to defeat the proposition that "If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have used it as an argument in 1 Cor. 15."

    I can do this via what Plantinga calls "undercutting" and/or "rebutting" defeaters. Here I will do one of each:
    (i) Rebutting defeater: Establish that Paul did believe in the empty tomb (and that he did author 1 Cor 15).
    (ii) Undercutting defeater: Knock out Perplexity's justification/argument(s) for the proposition.

    With respect to (i), Perplexity and I already agree that Paul authored 1 Cor 15, so to complete my case, here is some evidence that Paul believed Jesus' tomb was empty:
    (a) Paul and the apostles (i.e. the Jerusalem church) came to believe, and persisted in believing, that Jesus "resurrected."
    (b) Paul taught what the apostles (i.e. the Jerusalem church) taught, and the apostles persistently taught that Jesus' tomb was empty.
    (c) Even Jerusalem skeptics came to believe and persistently believed that Jesus' tomb was empty. Paul, as professional persecutor of Christianity, was thoroughly familiar with this, pre- and post-conversion.
    (d) Jesus' tomb was empty, and Paul would've known about it.

    The relevance of (a) is this is as follows: A "resurrection" by definition entailed an empty grave, and insofar as Jesus was indisputably entombed[1], it entails an empty tomb.
    --N.T. Wright: "There is no evidence that the anastasis root meant anything other than bodily resurrection, either in the paganism that denied it or the Pharisaic Judaism that affirmed it." [Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 215.]
    --E. E. Ellis: "It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, 'grave emptying' resurrection. To them an anastasis without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle." [The Gospel of Luke (Eerdmans, 1966), 273.]
    --Raymand Brown: "It is not really accurate to claim that the New Testament references to the resurrection of Jesus are ambiguous as to whether they mean bodily resurrection - there was no other kind of resurrection (in Jewish thought). Ambiguity arises only about the kind of body involved (earthly, celestial, etc.)." [The Virgin Birth and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), 70n.]

    In summary:
    --Robert Gundry: "Resurrection means “standing up” (anastasis) in consequence of being “raised” (egeirō in the passive). Normally, dead bodies are buried in a supine position; so in conjunction with the mention of Jesus’ burial the further mention of his having been raised must refer to the raising of a formerly supine corpse to the standing posture of a live body, [...] There was no need for Paul or the tradition he cites to mention the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb. They were not narrating a story; they were listing events. It was enough to mention dying, being buried, being raised and being seen." [Jesus' Resurrection : Fact or Figment? (IVP, 2000), 113.]

    Rather then spend my remaining time on (b)-(d), let's now consider Perplexity's argument that, contra Gundry et. al., "it was not enough."

    Perplexity accurately discerns Paul's ultimate motive, to overturn the "Corinthian heresy" that Christians would not receive resurrection bodies. The first section, 15:1–34, makes the case for the reality of future Christian resurrection. The second section, 15:35–58, allays their Greek fears about the ugliness of the concept (they seemed unaware of the would-be desirable/glorified status of the body when it is "transformed"). Paul's main argument for the possibility of Christian resurrection is the fact of Jesus' resurrection. Here, though, I believe that Perplexity fails to internalize the fact that the Corinthians already believed in Jesus' resurrection (v. 1, 11), so it's just false that Paul needs to pull out every trick in the bag to convince them of it! The series of reductios in v13-19 is properly thought of as superfluous rhetorical flourish which Paul could have just as easily left out (or added to!), and arguments from silence are woefully uncalled for. Scholars seem to agree with me.

    - - - - - - - -
    [1]Like my major contention, I don't take the proposition that Jesus was entombed to be very controversial.
    --First, it's been argued that, in Jerusalem, entombment rather than trench-burial was the norm (e.g., Shimon Gibson, a leading archaeologist and prof. with 20+yrs excavating experience writes in his 2009 book that "[Jerusalem] land was at a premium [...] every patch of land with arable soil was surrounded with a stone fence or terraced and used for cultivation. Scattered areas of trench graves would have been deemed wasteful" and "[s]impler forms of rock-cut tombs could be afforded by members of the lower classes [...] an average-sized chamber of 2 x 2 meters, with benches and a standing pit, could be hewn according to my calculations within twenty days, with an additional eight days to cut the forecourt and entrance" and "[t]he fact that graves of commoners have not been found must indicate I think that almost all the inhabitants of the city were able to afford rock-cut family tombs. The middle class—constituting the majority of the population—probably owned the better-hewn tomb complexes and were able to choose burial plots at better locations close to the city."[The Final Days of Jesus, p. 134, 160, 162.] I only mean to say here that Perplexity overestimates the inclination to trench-bury). Often crucifixion only used ropes, and when nails were used they were taken out (esp. given their value as talismans). Even though nails were taken out when possible, we still have archaeological evidence of the crucified being entombed (Yohanan ben Ha'galgal had a crucifixion nail accidentally lodged into his ankle bone such that the Romans couldn't take it out and we have the nail-bone today; he was also entombed in the late 20's CE during Pilates administration).
    --Second, as Dale Allison notes "It is instead quite likely that people, friendly, hostile, and indifferent, witnessed Jesus' end and its immediate aftermath, and that his crucifixion and burial became immediately the stuff of street gossip, so that anyone who wanted to learn what happened could have just asked around." That being said, the earliest Christian report(s) that Jesus was entombed (simpliciter) weren't a lies. The Jerusalem church believed Jesus was entombed and there is no trace of dispute (which we would expect) from any contemporaries.
    --Third, the earliest report that the Sanhedrinist Joseph of Arimathea entombed Jesus similarly wasn't a lie (there was no honesty-trumping motivation to tell a lie like this, in fact, the idea rather irked Christians; we also have reason to think Joseph himself acknowledged his role, and also reason to think that an accessible eyewitness, Mary Magdalene (along with the other Mary), maintained testimony that she witnessed the event).
    All in all, the evidence for Jesus' entombment is very strong, and the evidence against the entombment is a controversial (or at least severely weakened idea) that more often than not the crucified were buried in a trench. This is, of course, was only ever as useful as saying "Most men weren't named Jesus" and "Most men weren't crucified" etc. It's the weakest possible evidence to begin with. The vast majority of historians agree that Jesus was entombed.


    • #3
      1st Response to GnarlyOcelot:

      My opponent lists two objections [(i)-(ii)] to my first premise. Of those two, he only uses the first: his rebutting defeater. He lists four lines of evidence [(a)-(d)] to motivate his rebutting defeater, but only uses the first to this end. I will let him make his arguments for how (ii) and (b)-(d) assist in rebutting my first premise, so in this response I will only be addressing (i) and (a), or (i)(a).

      It seems to me that (i) is aimed at my first premise; but that (a) doesn't really support (i). Actually, (a) just motivates the proposition that Paul believed Jesus had physically resurrected. Of course, this needn't tell us anything interesting about where Paul thought Jesus physically resurrected. So, in a footnote labeled '[1]' GnarlyOcelot tries to make (a) relevant to my first premise by arguing that Jesus was probably buried in a tomb. It then stands to reason that Paul believed the tomb from which Jesus physically resurrected was empty after Jesus' resurrection.

      The problem is that either [1] is irrelevant to my first premise, or it's already been addressed in my opening post.

      Let's start with the first disjunct. On the one hand it seems [1] only probabilifies the proposition that Jesus was buried in some tomb or other. It does not probabilify the proposition that Jesus was buried in the tomb which my first premise speaks about, and which GnarlyOcelot's rebutting defeater mentions.

      On the other hand, GnarlyOcelot may have intended his last two points in [1] to show that Jesus was buried in the tomb, not just a tomb. But, as I argued in my opening post, even granting that Jesus was initially stored in such a tomb, it's highly likely he was then relocated to the kind of tomb which wouldn't have been of any use to Paul as an argument in 1 Cor. 15. So, we can grant those points and infer that Jesus was buried in the 'right' kind of tomb, but go further and say that was only a temporary storage.

      So, it seems either [1] is irrelevant to my first premise, or it's already been addressed.

      My first premise is not that if Paul believed in any old empty tomb, then he would have used it as an argument in 1 Cor. 15. Suppose that Paul believed Jesus was buried in a tomb with 80+ bodies. Would referencing the 'empty tomb', understood as such, be of any use to him in 1 Cor. 15? I imagine not! That just couldn't be a good argument. There are numerous kinds of tombs Jesus could have been buried in which Paul would receive no argumentative assistance from if he claimed were empty.

      No, premise (1) has something much more specific in mind: the kind of tomb, the emptiness of which would have assisted Paul's primary purpose in 1 Cor. 15. But, [1] certainly doesn't give us good reason to think Jesus was buried in such a tomb. Therefore, [1] does not support GnarlyOcelot's objection. His objection is then suspended only by (a), which as I've shown does not actually support it.

      So, it seems to me GnarlyOcelot's rebutting defeater shouldn't persuade us that my first premise is false.
      "So it seems at any rate that I am wiser in this one small respect: I do not think I know what I do not." - Socrates

      "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." - Nietzsche


      • #4
        Conclusion of the Debate:

        In chat, Perplexity has granted that the relocation hypothesis is irrelevant[1] and that the absence of establishing it was Joseph of Arimathea's tomb etc. is also irrelevant[2]. After a 2 hour long discussion in chat, Perplexity grants "that Paul believed in an empty tomb of some sort, I just don't think he considered it valuable enough to mention it in 1 Cor. 15."[3] I confirmed that the debate was over as a result, and Perplexity said "kewl".

        - - - - - - -
        [1]The (inept, imo) "relocation hypothesis" Perplexity endorses is a way to explain why Christians were fooled into thinking Jesus tomb was emptied via resurrection, when in fact it was not. In that regard, it's similar to the theft hypothesis. However, in both these cases, we still have Paul believing that the tomb was empty (even if he was mistaken about the cause). So the conclusion is still that Paul believed in the empty tomb, which is the subject of our debate. That being said, I'd invite Perplexity back for another debate on whether Paul believed in the gospel story of the empty tomb (with Joseph of Arimathea and discovery by women), or at least to debate the re-location hypothesis.
        [2] The topic title was the topic title "If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he would have spoke of it in 1 Cor. 15", a discussion which fell out of a chat we initiated that originally had nothing to do with a specific tomb (like Joseph of Arimatheas). Consequently, this debate was over whether Paul believed Jesus' tomb was empty (where "the empty tomb" denotes whatever tomb that is). Perplexity unfortunately added in the "Joseph of Arimathea's tomb as women watched etc." details in his opening speech, and I subsequently confirmed with him in chat (immediately after his reading opening speech) that these details were not the subject of debate; this was mutually agreed upon. His latest post needs to be read with this in mind; I didn't change goal posts.
        [3] I incidentally agree. Why? Because as I pointed out, Paul knows his audience already believes Jesus resurrected (1 Cor 15:1, 11). So it's false that Paul was doing his best to convince the Corinthians of Jesus' resurrection. Paul could have subtracted or added to his reductios; they weren't there to convince anyone of Jesus' resurrection, they were there to rhetorically emphasize the foolishness of the Corinthian heresy that Christians wouldn't be resurrected at the end times.