Gerald Goodridge Summary of:
Biblical Criticism and The Resurrection
By William P Alston
William P Alston is Professor Emeritus; Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1951
William P. Alston is a past President of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Perhaps best known for his work in the philosophy of language, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion, his impact is also felt in such areas as philosophical psychology and the history of philosophy. He was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in 1965-66 and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology at the University of Alberta in 1975. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he received the Syracuse University’s Chancellor’s Citation for Exceptional Academic Achievement. He conducted NEH summer seminars in 1978 and 1979, and directed an NEIl Institute on Philosophy of Religion in 1986. He is founding editor of the journal Faith and Philosophy. In October, 1987 he led a delegation of eight American philosophers in epistemology and philosophy of mind for a week of discussions with Soviet philosophers in Moscow and Leningrad. In September, 1991 he participated in a conference at Castel Gandolfo, Italy on theology and physical cosmology sponsored by the Vatican Observatory.
His publications include several anthologies; Philosophy of Language (Prentice-Hall, 1964); more than one hundred journal articles, many anthologized; eighteen articles in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed. Paul Edwards, MacMillan, 1967); and numerous reviews. Two collections of his essays have been published by Cornell University Press (1989): Epistemic .Just ~/l cation:
Essays in Epistemology and Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology. His most recent books are Perceiving God: A Study in the Epistemology ofReligious Experience, (Cornell, 1991), The Reliability of Sense Perception, (Cornell, 1993), and A Realist Conception of Truth (Cornell, 1995).
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I identified with Alston ideals.
The stated “general topic of this paper is the historical (in)accuracy of the Gospel accounts of the risen Jesus.” (148)
The somewhat unstated purpose of Alston’ s effort was to assess the arguments that have been brought forth to support what he argues are negative conclusions about what we can learn from the biblical accounts of what allegedly happened as the disciples encountered the risen Lord.
Definition of ‘argument with negative conclusions:’
Conclusions “having a disconfirmatory force ... in a Christian’s belief system.” (150)
Stated importance of this work:
“I fully recognize that it is more important to enter into an appropriate relationship with the risen Christ then it is to figure out exactly what happened in Palestine at that time. Nevertheless, ... it is certainly not irrelevant to Christian concerns to do the best we can to determine what we can reasonably believe about Jesus’ return to life... If these procedures fail to yield an answer, or worse, indicate that the balance of probability lies with the negation of certain historical reports in the Gospels, then we cannot be rationally justified in accepting those reports. Unless we embrace an irrational faith, we must reject them and, if we continue as Christians, find some other basis for Easter faith. (149)
Alston addresses the third prong of Fuller’s argument which is an attempt to discredit
Luke’s and John’s accounts of the appearances. Alston describes Fuller’s analysis as quite detailed, a line by line examination of the Gospel accounts.
Fuller’s analysis highlights the differences in the Gospels accounts and Alston agrees that the differences do exist.
Areas of differences include:
Matthew --- sets appearance and commission to mission on a mountain in Galilee
Luke --- Places all the appearances in an around Jerusalem
John --- Includes both Jerusalem and Galilee
Matthew --- The appearances seem to take place over a period of days
Luke --- The appearances took place in a 24 hour period
John --- The appearances seem to take place over a period of days
3. The Holy Spirit:
Matthew --- No comments
Luke --- The Disciples are told to wait in Jerusalem until they
receive the Holy Spirit — looking forward to Pentecost
John Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit on Easter Evening.
It was important to Alston to point out that Fuller did not reject the appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion but Fuller believed the appearances were more in line with what Paul reports, 1 Cor 15. However, Fuller believes the account transformed, from “the light” that Paul reports to the bodily appearances in the Gospels to support changing traditional needs. The believed changes are assigned to the *Hellenistic phase of the development of the tradition (the tradition ---i.e. Johannine, Lucan etc --- m which the account was proclaimed).
Alston finds this premise* to be an extremely speculative suggestion/hypothesis that is allowed to play a major role in Fuller’s and other scholars’ arguments.
For Alston the fact that the Gospel narratives aligned with interests, needs or convictions of the early Church is not enough to discredit, or label reductive, the Gospel narrative.
He asked if 2,000 years in the future should someone examine the speeches of M.L. King and removed everything that pertains to the interest, needs and convictions of the people what would we be left with.
From this type of reasoning Alston thought the development of tradition theories could be faulty and therefore the thoughts and suggestions developed through this process could be faulty.
The final engagement of Fuller’s work by Alston was in regard to the Enmaus story.
Fuller’s conclusion that the Etnmaus account is contrived because it contains contradictions. This is alleged because in the initial conversation between Cleopas and Jesus, Cleopas dd not mention appearances to the other disciples in his report to Jesus.
Alston asserts that Fuller came to this conclusion because of an eagerness and readiness of historical critics to attribute “contradiction” classifications to the Gospel accounts. This tendency Alston labels as “A low threshold for conflict.”
Alston states that if Fuller would just read the account, without the propensity to assign contradiction, he would realize that Cleopas did not learn about the other appearances until he met with the disciples which was clearly after his encounter with Jesus and therefore there is no contradiction in the Gospel account..
Part VI— Summary of the Arguments:
The different lines of arguments:
1. It is possible that it happened this way, therefore it did:
(A) taking any material that reflects interests, needs, or convictions of the early church to have been added to the tradition because of that, rather than being based on actual happenings at the period the narrative concerns.
(B) any material that is in line with an evangelist’s theological perspective must have
been due to his reconstrual of the matter.
(C) that stories could have originated because of a ‘story-telling proclivity’, then we will
assume that they did.
(D) if certain alleged words of Jesus could have originated with a Christian prophet in the early church, then we will suppose that they did.
2. The argument for silence that we saw to be so pervasive in Fuller. If our (admittedly extremely scanty) sources do not contain a certain kind of material, it must not have been available when those sources were composed.
3. Extremely speculative suggestions that are allowed to play a major role in an argument. An example for this would be Fuller’s supposition that the appearance to Paul was typical of all the appearances of the risen Jesus.
4. A low threshold for conflict. For example the Emmaus story.