Post Author: Bill Pratt
Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona locked horns once again over the resurrection of Jesus on the Unbelievable? podcast last April. The two scholars discussed various elements of the New Testament that historians could use to reconstruct the life of Jesus for much of the radio show. In the final segment of the debate, however, Ehrman once again charged that historians cannot tell us whether Jesus was resurrected – the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected is simply not one that the methods of historical analysis will allow.
Ehrman has made this charge before. I witnessed him say the same thing at a debate between him and Licona two years ago. This time, though, some nuances of his position appeared. When Ehrman argues that historians cannot conclude that the resurrection of Jesus occurred, we have to ask what he means by resurrection. Ehrman seems to mean the following: Jesus died and then a few days later was supernaturally re-animated by the Christian God in a miraculous act.
Why does Ehman say that historians cannot draw this conclusion? As far as I could tell, it is because of the words supernaturally, Christian God, and miraculous. Ehrman seems to be saying that these are theological words, not historical words. They are words used by people of faith, not by professional historians.
So how did Licona respond? He agreed to define the resurrection of Jesus as follows: Jesus died and then a few days later came back to life. Notice that Licona completely dropped the theological words that seemed to give Ehrman so much heartburn. Now the two scholars could move on and talk about the historical evidence supporting the non-theological resurrection. Unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, the show ran out of time and the new discussion was never pursued.
What’s the point in recounting their conversation? First, it cleared up what Ehrman’s real beef was. Second, it gives me an occasion to call for Ehrman and his admirers to drop this approach, as the point has been made. I, like Licona, am glad to use the non-theological definition of the resurrection in order to advance the historical debate. Let’s get on with it.