Wells’ explanation is a good example of the informal logical fallacy known as “pettifogging,” where one raises a smoke screen instead of dealing directly with the material. But this is not the same as explaining these historical references to the earthly ministry of Jesus. We may not like what the texts state, but we cannot thereby cause Jesus and his contemporaries to disappear from recent history simply by this type of reductio ad absurdum.
For reasons such as these, New Testament scholars, with virtually no exceptions, recognize the clear meaning of the texts that indicate that Jesus was a contemporary
9 Some scholars favor interpreting “on the third day” in 1 Cor. 15:4 in other than literal terms. For an in-depth explanation and critique of such an option, see William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston: Mellen, 1989), pp. 94–115. However, it should be noted carefully here that, in spite of the serious problems with such interpretations, and regardless of the view one takes, Wells would still have other major problems. As we have seen, Paul personally spoke to Peter and other apostles, and most of the 500 witnesses were still alive when Paul wrote. Additionally, Paul also knew James, the brother of Jesus. It is not surprising that it is clear to the vast majority of interpreters that Paul thought of Jesus’ appearances as having occurred very soon after his death and certainly contemporaneously with his own life.
10 Wells, “Was Jesus Crucified Under Pilate?” pp. 24–25; also Did Jesus Exist?, chapter 5.
11 Matt. 12:46–47; Mark 3:31–32; Luke 8:19–20; John 7:5. 12 Antiquities20:9.1.
of Paul and the other apostles, having lived recently. While Paul’s epistles do not contain myriads of details about the life of Jesus, there is no reason to claim that he was largely uninterested, either. An impressive compilation of facts concerning Jesus and his ministry, learned from persons who knew him best, can be built from the epistles of Paul alone.^13 Since Wells recognizes Paul’s major epistles as the earliest and most crucial material here, this information militates against his skeptical position.
3.Ancient mystery religions
The third major problem with Wells’ approach concerns his usage of the ancient mystery religions to explain the early Christian worship of Jesus. Such a reliance on the development of legends was a popular thesis late last century, but has been dismissed today by the majority of researchers, and for good reasons.
The basis for two serious problems with the legend theory has already been mentioned above. Paul’s use of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. reveals that the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection was both early and dependent on the reports of eyewitnesstestimony. Thus an adequate account must be made of the report of reliable witnesses that they actually saw Jesus alive after his death. Pannenberg concludes: Under such circumstances it is an idle venture to make parallels in the history of religions responsible for the emergenceof the primitive Christian message about Jesus’ resurrection.^14 In other words, that it was Paul and the other apostles who had these actual experiences rules out legend as the cause for the resurrection, since the original teaching concerning Jesus’ appearances is based on real eyewitness experiences of something that was seen and not on later legends. These experiences require an adequate explanation.