I am offering, rather, a historical challenge to other explanations and to the worldviews within which they gain their meaning. Precisely because at this point we are faced with worldview-level issues, there is no neutral ground, no island in the middle of the epistemological ocean as yet uncolonized by any of the warring continents. Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which skepticisms of various sorts have long been hiding. The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivaled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity. The obvious fact that this remains hugely challenging at the personal and corporate level ought not to put us off from taking it seriously. Or were we only playing when we entertained the question in the first place? There are, after all, different types of knowing. Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable. Caesar only crossed the Rubicon once, and if he’d crossed it again it would have meant something different the second time. There was, and could be, only one first landing on the moon. The fall of the second Jerusalem Temple took place in a.d. 70 and never happened again. Historians don’t of course see this as a problem and are usually not shy about declaring that these events certainly took place, even though we can’t repeat them in the laboratory. But when people say, “But that can’t have happened because we know that that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen,” they are appealing to a would-be scientific principle of history, namely, the principle of analogy. The problem with analogy is that it never quite gets you far enough. History is full of unlikely things that happened once and once only, with the result that the analogies are often at best partial. In any case, if someone declares that certain kinds of events “don’t normally happen,” that merely invites the retort, “Who says?” And indeed, in the case in point, we should note as an obvious but often overlooked point the fact that the early Christians did not think that Jesus’s resurrection was one instance of something that happened from time to time elsewhere. Granted, they saw it as the first, advance instance of something that would eventually happen to everyone else. But they didn’t employ that future hope as an analogy from which to argue backward that it had happened already in this one instance (“It’s going to happen to everyone eventually, so that shows it’s all right for it to have happened this once in advance”). So how does the historian work when the evidence points toward things that we do not normally expect? The resurrection is such a prime example of this that it’s hard to produce, at this meta-level, analogies for the question itself. But sooner or later questions of worldview begin to loom in the background, and the question of what kinds of material the historian will allow onstage is inevitably affected by the worldview within which he or she lives.

N.T. Wright (from his book, Surprised by Hope)

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