Monday, September 22, 2008

Lazarus and Lazarus, or just Lazarus?

The primary skeptical alternative to apologists' arguments from the Gospels is that the stories of Jesus were legends that may contain an ounce of truth, but have grown enough to be unreliable.

Here, I will continue to make this case, again with a purely biblical argument. In particular, I will be comparing two stories that I believe to be parallel, although Christians will certainly disagree.

The first is Luke 16:19-31. This is a fictional story Jesus told. (I've heard Christian and skeptic alike argue that this was meant to be a true story. For the sake of this particular argument, it matters little.) It concerns Lazarus, a beggar who dies and goes to heaven, or somewhere similar. While in heaven, he has a dialog with an evil rich man who has died and is in a place similar to hell. The main point, or at least a main point of the parable is the final piece of dialog, where the rich man pleads to Abraham for Lazarus to be sent back from the dead and warn his brothers. Abraham replies that they have the Scripture, and if they are not convinced by the Scripture, they will not be convinced by Lazarus returning from the dead.

The second is John 11:1-53. This is presented as a true story, and contains the Bible's only other [mention of] Lazarus. Lazarus dies but is then brought back from the dead. Despite this, the chief priests who know the Scripture better than anyone do not believe in Jesus, but instead try to kill him.

There are three ways to look at this:

1. It's a coincidence that Luke has a hypothetical Resurrection of a Lazarus and John has a Resurrection of a real Lazarus.
2. Some other non-coincidental explanation.
3. Lazarus' Resurrection is a fish story that grew out of Jesus' parable.

At a glance, it would make sense to suggest that Jesus intentionally used the parable to foreshadow a real event. Until you consider what this would imply about Luke and his research.

This would mean that Jesus actually raised a man from the dead, many people believed because of this, this was the key event in Jesus life leading the chief priests to their murderous rage, and yet somehow Luke couldn't find a single witness to justify writing about this! And yet somehow, he found a witness who remembered the details of Jesus parable, all the way up to the name of the character Jesus used in his parable.

Furthermore, Luke 19:45-47 suggests that the chief priests wanted to kill him after he drove out the money changers. This suggests that Luke would have disagreed with what John thought the reason was. John also mentions that the money changers were thrown out in John 2:13-21. Do you see what John just did there? In Luke the key reason was the cleansing of the temple and in John the key reason is the resurrection of Lazarus, so John moved the temple cleansing to the beginning of the story.

Of course, Jesus could have cleansed the temple twice, and I'm not suggesting that anything is implausible about that. What I'm suggesting is that the Gospels fit together better from the perspective of “how are these stories changing with time?” rather than “how can I make these events fit together?”

A misconception apologists often have is that skeptics discount biblical miracles simply because they are naturalists. That is not the case. Here, I have given a purely biblical reason to think the resurrection of Lazarus never actually happened.

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