During my desperate attempts to save my faith during the first half of 2014, I came across the following article. At the time this information seemed to quell my concerns about the historicity of the Resurrection and the Gospel stories. A friend, Jim, an orthodox Lutheran, pointed this old post out to me today, so I am going to re-read and review it. I will post my “updated” views/comments interspersed in the article in red.
Posted on this blog, February 26, 2014
This is the best article (so far) that I have found that gives excellent evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; stronger evidence, in fact, than the evidence that exists to support even some of the most famous events recorded in our history books regarding Antiquity, which we accept without question as fact.
Copied from: Catholic Apologetics
EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
A Challenge for Skeptics
See also our article on: The Importance of the Resurrection
A reasonable challenge to the skeptic is this: If it can be proved that Jesus really rose from the dead, will you believe in him? Yes! For if he really rose, that validates his claim to be divine and not merely human, for resurrection from death is beyond human power; and his divinity validates the truth of everything else he said, for God cannot lie. I agree.
The Strategy of the Argument for the Resurrection: Five Possible Theories
We believe Christ’s resurrection can be proved with at least as much certainty as any universally believed and well-documented event in ancient history. To prove this, we do not need to presuppose anything controversial (e.g. that miracles happen). But the skeptic must also not presuppose anything (e.g. that they do not). We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired or even true. We do not need to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or post-resurrection appearances, as recorded. We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies:
I. The existence of the New Testament texts as we have them.
II. The existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today.
The question is this: Which theory about what really happened in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday can account for the data? There are five possible theories: Christianity, hallucination, myth, conspiracy and swoon. Wrong! You have left out the most likely theory: Legend:
Jesus died — Jesus rose ———————————- (1) Christianity
Jesus didn’t rise — the apostles were deceived —– (2) Hallucination
the apostles were myth-makers ————————- (3) Myth
the apostles were deceivers —————————— (4) Conspiracy
Jesus didn’t die ———————————————- (5) Swoon
Jesus died; Jesus was buried in a common grave for crucified criminals, as was the custom of the Romans; the location of his body was known only to a few Roman soldiers who weren’t talking. Days, weeks, months, years later, someone thought they saw Jesus in the distance, in a crowd, or in a vision, and the legend of a resurrected Jewish messiah is born. (6) Legend
If you don’t believe that legends can spread and be embellished in a very short period of time, with thousands of people believing it, just read the story of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who washed ashore near Miami, and of course the countless Virgin Mary sightings.
Theories 2 and 4 constitute a dilemma: if Jesus didn’t rise, then the apostles, who taught that he did, were either deceived (if they thought he did) or deceivers (if they knew he didn’t). The Modernists could not escape this dilemma until they came up with a middle category, myth. It is the most popular alternative today. How do we know what the apostles really taught? We have zero writings from any Christian prior to Paul’s first epistle in approximately 55 AD. We have no verifiable writings of any of the apostles, other than Paul. The assignment of the authorship of most of the New Testament is simply tradition.
Thus either (1) the resurrection really happened (possible, but highly improbable), (2) the apostles were deceived by a hallucination, false sightings, or visions (from human history and medical/psychological research, this is the most likely explanation) (3) the apostles created a myth, not meaning it literally (I doubt it) (4) the apostles were deceivers who conspired to foist on the world the most famous and successful lie in history, (very unlikely), or (5) Jesus only swooned and was resuscitated, not resurrected, (highly unlikely. the Romans were very experienced, professional executioners) All five theories are logically possible, and therefore must be fairly investigated — even (1) (sounds fair to me) ! They are also the only possibilities, unless we include really far-out ideas that responsible historians have never taken seriously, such as that Jesus was really a Martian who came in a flying saucer (Hey, if we are going to consider as a possibility that an invisible deity sitting on a throne at the edge of the universe can supernaturally raise a man from the dead, we can’t count anything out, including Martians. If the supernatural is possible, all supernatural possibilities are possible). Or that he never even existed (Even most atheist scholars believe Jesus was a real person, so I doubt the Mythicists are correct, but it cannot be excluded as a possibility); that the whole story was the world’s greatest fantasy novel, written by some simple fisherman (or written by professional writers who used the concept of a Messiah pretender to tell a great story); that he was a literary character whom everyone in history mistook for a real person, including all Christians and their enemies, until some scholar many centuries later got the real scoop from sources unnamed.
If we can refute all other theories (2-5), we will have proved the truth of the resurrection (1). The form of the argument here is similar to that of most of the arguments for the existence of God. Neither God nor the resurrection are directly observable, but from data that are directly observable we can argue that the only possible adequate explanation of this data is the Christian one (Let’s see. I will keep an open mind, but I will not accept any assumptions. Assumptions are not evidence.)
We shall take the four non-believing theories in the following order: from the simplest, least popular and most easily refuted to the most confusing, most popular and most complexly refuted: first swoon, then conspiracy, then hallucination and finally myth.
Refutation of the Swoon Theory: Nine Arguments
Nine pieces of evidence refute the swoon theory:
(1) Jesus could not have survived crucifixion. Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion. It was never done. Agree.
(2) The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus’ legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (Jn 19:31-33), means that the soldier was sure Jesus was dead. Assumption. You are assuming that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness as an historical account. We have no way to verify this assumption. This “gospel” could have been written as an historical fiction, loosely based on one of the many messiah pretenders, Jesus of Nazareth, with the crucifixion details made up, simply for the author to sell a good book.
Breaking the legs hastened the death so that the corpse could be taken down before the sabbath (v. 31). Assumption that this passage is meant to be a statement of historical fact by its anonymous author.
(3) John, an eyewitness, certified that he saw blood and water come from Jesus’ pierced heart (Jn 19:34-35). This shows that Jesus’ lungs had collapsed and he had died of asphyxiation. Any medical expert can vouch for this. An anonymous writer, writing more than 60 years after the event, claims that the disciple “whom Jesus loves” was at the cross. Other “gospels” state that none of the male disciples were anywhere near the cross. We therefore cannot safely accept that “John” was an eyewitness.
(4) The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (Jn 19:38-42). Assumption. Using an anonymous, uncorroroborated source as a source of historical fact.
(5) The post-resurrection appearances convinced the disciples, even “doubting Thomas,” that Jesus was gloriously alive (Jn 20:19-29). It is psychologically impossible for the disciples to have been so transformed and confident if Jesus had merely struggled out of a swoon, badly in need of a doctor. A half-dead, staggering sick man who has just had a narrow escape is not worshiped fearlessly as divine lord and conquerer of death. Assumption. We have no verifiable testimony from any of the Eleven about an alleged Resurrection.
(6) How were the Roman guards at the tomb overpowered by a swooning corpse? Or by unarmed disciples? And if the disciples did it, they knowingly lied when they wrote the Gospels, and we are into the conspiracy theory, which we will refute shortly. Or the possibility that the “empty tomb” story is a later embellishment. Paul, whose first epistle appears in approximately 55 AD says nothing about a tomb, let alone an empty tomb. The first mention of an empty tomb is by “Mark”, possibly writing after 70 AD. Jerusalem has just been burned to the ground with a high percentage of her citizens massacred. Who is left to point out the “empty tomb”?
(7) How could a swooning half-dead man have moved the great stone at the door of the tomb? Who moved the stone if not an angel? Or there was no tomb. In keeping with the Roman tradition, Jesus’ body was tossed into a common grave with the other two criminals crucified with him. If the Jews were so concerned about not having dead men hanging on crosses during the Sabbath/Passover, why didn’t the Jews insist on burying the two thieves? No. Most likely, the body of Jesus and that of the two thieves were tossed into an unmarked grave and the remains of their corpses are still today somewhere among the sands and dirt outside the city gates of Jerusalem. No one has ever answered that question. Neither the Jews nor the Romans would move it, for it was in both their interests to keep the tomb sealed, the Jews had the stone put there in the first place, and the Roman guards would be killed if they let the body “escape.” Again, these “facts” are based on the writings of an anonymous author, writing decades after the event, for an unknown literary purpose.
The story the Jewish authorities spread, that the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body (Mt 28:11-15), is unbelievable. Roman guards would not fall asleep on a job like that; if they did, they would lose their lives. And even if they did fall asleep, the crowd and the effort and the noise it would have taken to move an enormous boulder would have wakened them. Furthermore, we are again into the conspiracy theory, with all its unanswerable difficulties (see next section).
(8) If Jesus awoke from a swoon, where did he go? Think this through: you have a living body to deal with now, not a dead one. Why did it disappear? There is absolutely no data, not even any false, fantastic, imagined data, about Jesus’ life after his crucifixion, in any sources, friend or foe, at any time, early or late. A man like that, with a past like that, would have left traces. (Papias, the source Christians use to first claim authorship of the Gospels, believed that Jesus remained on earth until he was at least fifty years old. Reliable source???)
(9) Most simply, the swoon theory necessarily turns into the conspiracy theory or the hallucination theory, for the disciples testified that Jesus did not swoon but really died and really rose. (He didn’t swoon. Its medically impossible for someone to suffer the trauma Jesus allegedly experienced, to then walk out of his tomb, to eat a broiled fish lunch with his disciples, having first walked all the way to Emmaus.)
It may seem that these nine arguments have violated our initial principle about not presupposing the truth of the Gospel texts, since we have argued from data in the texts. But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data; it uses them and explains them (by swoon rather than resurrection). Thus we use them too. We argue from our opponents’ own premises.
Refutation of the Conspiracy Theory: Seven Arguments
Why couldn’t the disciples have made up the whole story?
(1) Blaise Pascal gives a simple, psychologically sound proof for why this is unthinkable:
“The apostles were either deceived or deceivers. Either supposition is difficult, for it is not possible to imagine that a man has risen from the dead. While Jesus was with them, he could sustain them; but afterwards, if he did not appear to them, who did make them act? The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead. This means attacking all the powers that be. The human heart is singularly susceptible to fickleness, to change, to promises, to bribery. One of them had only to deny his story under these inducements, or still more because of possible imprisonment, tortures and death, and they would all have been lost. Follow that out.” (Pascal, Pensees 322, 310) I agree. I highly doubt that the disciples made this whole story up. But I think it is highly likely that days, weeks, months, or years after Jesus’ death, and his burial in an unmarked tomb, someone or someones saw someone in the distance, in a crowd, or in vision that looked like Jesus, and the dejected/depressed, superstitious, uneducated, simple, poor followers of Jesus jumped on this “sighting”, believed that Jesus really had fulfilled his promise to rise again, and believed he had risen so sincerely, that they spread the word throughout the empire.
The “cruncher” in this argument is the historical fact that no one, weak or strong, saint or sinner, Christian or heretic, ever confessed, freely or under pressure, bribe or even torture, that the whole story of the resurrection was a fake a lie, a deliberate deception. Even when people broke under torture, denied Christ and worshiped Caesar, they never let that cat out of the bag, never revealed that the resurrection was their conspiracy. For that cat was never in that bag. No Christians believed the resurrection was a conspiracy; if they had, they wouldn’t have become Christians. The very definition of a legend is that a story develops which people believe as absolute fact…but no one can prove it. It still happens today, so it should be no surprise that it happened in first century Palestine when the overwhelming majority of the population was uneducated, oppressed, desperate for hope, and very superstitious.
(2) If they made up the story, they were the most creative, clever, intelligent fantasists in history, far surpassing Shakespeare, or Dante or Tolkien. Fisherman’s “fish stories” are never that elaborate, that convincing, that life-changing, and that enduring.
(3) The disciples’ character argues strongly against such a conspiracy on the part of all of them, with no dissenters. They were simple, honest, common peasants, not cunning, conniving liars. They weren’t even lawyers! Their sincerity is proved by their words and deeds. They preached a resurrected Christ and they lived a resurrected Christ. They willingly died for their “conspiracy.” Nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom. They change in their lives from fear to faith, despair to confidence, confusion to certitude, runaway cowardice to steadfast boldness under threat and persecution, not only proves their sincerity but testifies to some powerful cause of it. Can a lie cause such a transformation? Are truth and goodness such enemies that the greatest good in history — sanctity — has come from the greatest lie? This statement is using the very source we are trying to investigate and confirm as accurate…as a source of fact! You can’t do that. Again, you cannot use an anonymously written text whose literary purpose and audience is unknown as a source of historical fact.
Use your imagination and sense of perspective here. Imagine twelve poor, fearful, stupid (read the Gospels!) peasants changing the hard-nosed Roman world with a lie. And not an easily digested, attractive lie either. And yet we are asked to believe that these “stupid” peasants wrote the Gospels, some of the most complex and artistic pieces of literature! St. Thomas Aquinas says:
“In the midst of the tyranny of the persecutors, an innumerable throng of people, both simple and learned, flocked to the Christian faith. In this faith there are truths proclaimed that surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now, for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles….This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness….For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simply and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 6) The Koran, the Hindu Scriptures, The Torah, and the Book of Mormon all call for spurring the world and curbing the pleasures of the flesh….and millions of people have flocked to these faiths. Mass conversions mean nothing, other than that uneducated, poor, hopeless people will grasp at almost any source of hope and “salvation”.
(4) There could be no possible motive for such a lie. Lies are always told for some selfish advantage. What advantage did the “conspirators” derive from their “lie” ? They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions — hardly a catalog of perks! I don’t think they lied. I think they truly believed what they believed.
(5) If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it. The Roman soldiers and their leaders were on their side, not the Christians’. And if the Jews couldn’t get the body because the disciples stole it, how did they do that? The arguments against the swoon theory hold here too: unarmed peasants could not have overpowered Roman soldiers or rolled away a great stone while they slept on duty. No one could have produced a body if it had been buried in the usual Roman custom: in a mass, unmarked grave with other executed criminals.
(6) The disciples could not have gotten away with proclaiming the resurrection in Jerusalem — same time, same place, full of eyewitnesses — if it had been a lie. True. But what source tells us that the disciples were proclaiming the physical resurrection of Jesus within days of Jesus’ execution? One anonymous book: the Book of Acts. Who wrote it? For what purpose? Is it historically accurate or another historical fiction. We have no way to know. William Lane Craig says,
“The Gospels were written in such a temporal and geographical proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events….The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection (and been believed) under such circumstances had it not occurred.” (Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, chapter 6) Assumption, assumption, assumption. Craig also probably believes that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down wrote, printed, published, and circulated their gospels within two days of the Resurrection (exaggeration). He has no evidence for any of these claims. He is using the document in question (the Bible) as his source of factual information.
Imagine that someone contests the historicity of the Paris Peace Talks between Henry Kissinger and the North Vietnamese in the early 1970’s. This skeptic alleges that there were no peace negotiations whatsoever in Paris or anywhere near Paris between Henry Kissinger and the North Vietnamese. He alleges that the entire concept was a farce perpetrated by Richard Nixon to fool the American people. How could we prove this skeptic wrong? What historical sources could we go to for evidence to confirm the historicity of the Paris Peace Talks?
Probably the best source of evidence would be the memoirs/writings of those involved in the peace talks, such as the writings of Henry Kissinger, his assistants and staff, and that of the North Vietnamese negotiator and his assistants and staff. Even if we only use four sources: Henry Kissinger, his interpreter, the North Vietnamese negotiator, and his interpreter, if the four accounts agree in the significant details, I would bet that most people would consider these sources to be excellent and the reliability of the evidence to be very high.
Now, imagine if the only sources that we have that attest to this alleged event are four anonymous books, written decades after the event, in a language other than English or Vietnamese, which include stories such as ghosts impregnating virgins, people walking on water, and dead people teleporting through space…and…there are significant discrepancies regarding the crucial facts of the story. Would these four anonymous books be a good source for establishing fact? Most people, I believe, would say, “no”. Just because the books have correct information about the geographical details of the city of Paris and correctly describes French culture and society in the early 1970’s doesn’t mean that all the supernatural assertions in the books are also true historical events. The four books could very simply be historical fictions, written for the purpose of entertainment, and therefore not reliable sources for which to establish the historicity or non-historicity of the Paris Peace Talks.
I view the four gospels of the New Testament as being just as unreliable as sources of historical fact as the four anonymous books above regarding the Paris Peace Talks. We don’t know the authors! We don’t know the purpose of the book. We don’t know if the book is meant to be history, or simply an enchanting, supernatural tale, with some true historical aspects, written to earn the starving author some cash.
(7) If there had been a conspiracy, it would certainly have been unearthed by the disciples’ adversaries, who had both the interest and the power to expose any fraud. Common experience shows that such intrigues are inevitably exposed (Craig, ibid).
In conclusion, if the resurrection was a concocted, conspired lie, it violates all known historical and psychological laws of lying. It is, then, as unscientific, as unrepeatable, unique and untestable as the resurrection itself. But unlike the resurrection, it is also contradicted by things we do know (the above points). I agree. I don’t think that a bunch of peasants would have been smart enough to pull off such a complicated conspiracy. I believe that the early Christians genuinely believed whatever it was that they believed. But the question is: What did the early Christians of the first several decades after the crucifixion believe??? We don’t know because no one wrote anything until Paul, who was not an eyewitness, wrote to the church in Corinth, in 55 AD.
Refutation of the Hallucination Theory: Thirteen Arguments
If you thought you saw a dead man walking and talking, wouldn’t you think it more likely that you were hallucinating than that you were seeing correctly? Why then not think the same thing about Christ’s resurrection?
(1) There were too many witnesses. Assumption. Your witness list comes straight from our four anonymous works of literature, the purpose of which, historical documentary or fiction, we cannot say—and—from a creed recited by Paul in I Corinthians which he admits was passed on to him. We have no evidence that Paul ever met the “five hundred” mentioned in the creed. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his “brother” or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses — he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true. The epistle of I Corinthians was written to the church in Corinth…fifteen hundred miles from Palestine. Someone would have had to jump on a ship and travel to Palestine to verify the 500 witnesses existed. But once again, the creed which mentions five hundred witnesses, was given to Paul. He may just be repeating it, not trying to infer that he himself knows these five hundred people really do exist. And why don’t any of the other Resurrection accounts mention 500 people seeing Jesus at the same time, same location? Sounds more like an embellishment to an already embellished tall tale to me.
And the author is wrong. Large groups of people have been recorded to have simultaneous visions/hallucinations. Just google “Virgin Mary appearances” for the proof.
(2) The witnesses were qualified. They were simple, honest, moral people who had firsthand knowledge of the facts. Assumptions.
(3) The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private “hallucinations” at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.) And the practical difference between physical resurrection and a vision is what??? If you see a dead person moving, speaking, etc., it is a dead person performing a supernatural act. The thousands of people who claim to have SEEN the Virgin Mary claim to have really and physically seen her. They deny that they were hallucinating.
(4) Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. This one hung around for forty days (Acts 1:3). One Gospels says the ascended the same day, one says eight days later, and one says forty days later. Which is it or is it all of them??
(5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people (Jn 20:19-21:14; Acts 1:3). The Virgin Mary frequently reappears to the same people, who are not judged to be insane. Protestants try really hard to dismiss the claims of SEEING the Virgin Mary as being somehow different from Paul’s SEEING Jesus. The truth of the matter is that people who claim to see the Virgin Mary actually claim to see a body. Paul only claimed to have seen a bright light…in a heavenly vision.
(6) Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9) — like a real person and unlike a dream. Huh? People don’t eat broiled fish in their dreams? Have you never had an “unexpected” event happen in a dream, such as, falling off a cliff, being in a car accident, etc.
(7) Not only did the disciples not expect this, they didn’t even believe it at first — neither Peter, nor the women, nor Thomas, nor the eleven. They thought he was a ghost; he had to eat something to prove he was not (Lk 24:36-43). Again, using the text under question, as the source of facts.
(8) Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:1-14). You’ve never seen anyone eating in one of your dreams? I will bet that most people have.
(9) The disciples touched him (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). So say our anonymous works of first century literature…of unknown purpose.
(10) They also spoke with him, and he spoke back. Figments of your imagination do not hold profound, extended conversations with you, unless you have the kind of mental disorder that isolates you. But this “hallucination” conversed with at least eleven people at once, for forty days (Acts 1:3). People who hallucinate have conversations with televisions, radios, etc. etc.
(11) The apostles could not have believed in the “hallucination” if Jesus’ corpse had still been in the tomb. This is very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? Most likely in an unmarked, mass grave for executed Roman criminals. They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed.
(12) If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body — unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we are back with the conspiracy theory and all its difficulties. The entire Resurrection story really does rest upon the concept of an empty tomb. If there was no tomb at all, just an unmarked common, mass grave, the entire argument falls apart.
(13) A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the corpse. No theory can explain all these data except a real resurrection Once again, using the text under question as a source of historical fact. C.S. Lewis says,
“Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?” (Miracles, chapter 16) The theory that these embellishments developed over 30 years to form a legend is the most likely explanation for these stories.
Some of these arguments are as old as the Church Fathers. True. Christians have been forced to find the most complicated of harmonizations for their supernatural tale from the beginning since it first started circulating. A telling fact as to the lack of good evidence to support this tale is this: the overwhelming majority of Jews have never bought it. Most go back to the eighteenth century, especially William Paley. How do unbelievers try to answer them? Today, few even try to meet these arguments, although occasionally someone tries to refurbish one of the three theories of swoon, conspiracy or hallucination (e.g. Schonfield’s conspiratorial The Passover Plot). But the counter-attack today most often takes one of the two following forms.
I. Some dismiss the resurrection simply because it is miraculous, thus throwing the whole issue back to whether miracles are possible. They argue, as Hume did, that any other explanation is always more probable than a miracle. Christians are always in full agreement with Hume in refuting the supernatural claims of Muslims, Mormons, and Hindus as being very highly unlikely and improbable, but once the subject turns to the Christian supernatural tales, then suddenly Hume is an idiot. For a refutation of these arguments, see our chapter on miracles (chapter 5). It is amazing how Christians will mock the supernatural assertions of other religions as being silly ignorance, but readily believe that ghosts impregnate virgins and that humans can walk on water.
II. The other form of counter-attack, by far the most popular, is to try to escape the traditional dilemma of “deceivers” (conspirators) or “deceived” (hallucinators) by interpreting the Gospels as myth — neither literally true nor literally false, but spiritually or symbolically true. This is the standard line of liberal theology departments in colleges, universities and seminaries throughout the Western world today. You have once again left out the most probable source for the stories in the Gospels: Legend. The disciples had expected to rule on thrones next to Jesus in the New Kingdom. But Jesus is dead, his body buried in some mass grave with other criminals, the location known only to a few Roman soldiers. One day someone sees “Jesus” in the distance for a brief moment. “He is risen!” is the report. And over the next thirty years, the sighting takes on a life of its own, until s writer in Antioch writes a book about it, based on the many oral stories of the “sighting” in circulation at the time…and voila…the Gospel of “Mark” is born.
More comments tomorrow.
Refutation of the Myth Theory: Six Arguments
(1) The style of the Gospels is radically and clearly different from the style of all the myths. Any literary scholar who knows and appreciates myths can verify this. There are no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events Let’s see: ghosts impregnating virgins. Humans walking on water. Demons possessing pigs. Dead people walking out of their graves and visiting relatives and friends. Nope. Nothing spectacular there.. Nothing is arbitrary. Everything fits in. Everything is meaningful. The hand of a master is at work here. Absolutely. A master, professional author. Not a Greek speaking fisherman, tax-collector, or doctor.
Psychological depth is at a maximum. In myth it is at a minimum. In myth, such spectacular external events happen that it would be distracting to add much internal depth of character. That is why it is ordinary people like Alice who are the protagonists of extra-ordinary adventures like Wonderland. That character depth and development of everyone in the Gospels — especially, of course, Jesus himself — is remarkable. It is also done with an incredible economy of words. Myths are verbose; the Gospels are laconic (concise). All the above can be said for Homer’s Iliad. No one today believes that the supernatural claims made in the Iliad are true simply because “psychological depth” is at a maximum.
There are also telltale marks of eyewitness description, like the little detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not (Jn 8:6) This little detail is now believed to be a scribe addition. It is not in any of the oldest existing manuscripts. No one knows why this is put in; nothing comes of it. Except it adds mystery and intrigue to a good story and might help sell books. The only explanation is that the writer saw it. Or invented it. If this detail and others like it throughout all four Gospels were invented, then a first-century tax collector (Matthew), a “young man” (Mark), a doctor (Luke), and a fisherman (John) all independently invented the new genre of realistic fantasy nineteen centuries before it was reinvented in the twentieth. Assumption. The author of this articles is assuming as fact that Matthew, John Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels. This error is repeated over and over in every conversation I have with Christians regarding the evidence (or lack thereof) for the Resurrection.
The literacy rate in first century Palestine was very low, especially among the lower classes. So what are the chances that a Galilean fisherman could read and write his own language, Aramaic? Very low. What are the chances that a Galilean fisherman could speak fluent Greek, the language of the upper classes? Very low. What are the chances that a Galilean fisherman could read and write Greek? Very low. What are the chances that a Galilean fisherman could write complex, literary Greek prose? Extremely low.
I speak Spanish. For a gringo, I speak Spanish pretty well. I can have a normal, fluent conversation with a Spanish speaker. I can read a Spanish newspaper. I can listen to the news in Spanish and understand what is being said. I can write a letter in Spanish. But I could never write a book in Spanish the comes even close to the level of fluency and professional artistic style of the Gospels. Are we really to believe that peasant fishermen, a tax-collector, and even a physician had the talent and training to write these complex pieces of Greek prose?? Are we really to believe that in between preaching the Gospel to the entire world and fleeing from one town to the next to escape persecution, these four men were taking college courses in advanced Greek writing? It strains credulity, folks.
Here are some of the literary techniques used by the author of “The Gospel of John”
-“bookending” a story
To see the extent of the professional talents of the author of this work of literature, read this article, a literary analysis of the Gospel of John: here
Folks: only a highly trained, very experienced professional writer could have written this book…unless you are going to invoke supernatural intervention.
The stylistic point is argued so well by C.S. Lewis in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (in Christian Reflections and also in Fern-Seed and Elephants) that we strongly refer the reader to it as the best comprehensive anti-demythologizing essay we have seen.
Let us be even more specific. Let us compare the Gospels with two particular mythic writings from around that time to see for ourselves the stylistic differences. The first is the so-called Gospel of Peter, a forgery from around A.D. 125 which John Dominic Crossan (of the “Jesus Seminar”), a current media darling among the doubters, insists is earlier than the four Gospels. As William Lane Craig puts it:
“In this account, the tomb is not only surrounded by Roman guards but also by all the Jewish Pharisees and elders as well as a great multitude from all the surrounding countryside who have come to watch the resurrection. Suddenly in the night there rings out a loud voice in heaven, and two men descend from heaven to the tomb. The stone over the door rolls back by itself, and they go into the tomb. The three men come out of the tomb, two of them holding up the third man. The heads of the two men reach up into the clouds, but the head of the third man reaches beyond the clouds. Then a cross comes out of the tomb, and a voice from heaven asks, ‘Have you preached to them that sleep?’ And the cross answers, ‘Yes.'” (Apologetics, p. 189) This excerpt from the Gospel of Peter, which scholars believe was possibly written before Mark, shows the extent of the supernatural oral stories circulating in the Christian community in the first century.
Here is a second comparison, from Richard Purtill:
“It may be worthwhile to take a quick look, for purposes of comparison at the closest thing we have around the time of the Gospels to an attempt at a realistic fantasy. This is the story of Apollonius of Tyana, written about A.D. 250 by Flavius Philostratus….There is some evidence that a neo-Pythagorean sage named Apollonius may really have lived, and thus Philostratus’ work is a real example of what have thought the Gospels to be: a fictionalized account of the life of a real sage and teacher, introducing miraculous elements to build up the prestige of the central figure. It thus gives us a good look at what a real example of a fictionalized biography would look like, written at a time and place not too far removed from those in which the Gospels were written.
“The first thing we notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story, which inspired a minor poem by Keats entitled Lamia. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him and sends him on his way with camels and precious stones.
“Here is a typical passage about healing miracles: ‘A woman who had had seven miscarriages was cured through the prayers of her husband, as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the rabbit; for she would lose her womb as well as her baby if the rabbit was not immediately driven away.’ [Bk 3, sec 39]
“The point is that this is what you get when the imagination goes to work. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed we wander into fairyland. And very nice too, for amusement or recreation. But the Gospels are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give.” (Thinking About Religion, p. 75-76) Have you forgotten about the ghost impregnating a virgin? Moving stars that rest over stables? Heavenly beings that appear to shepherds? Men who walk on water? Evil spirits that enter a herd of pigs, driving them into the sea by the thousands? Water turning to wine? Dead people walking out of their graves? A man teleporting on the Emmaus Road and through a locked door. A man levitating into the clouds?
And what about the old Testament? Talking snakes that walk upright? Donkeys that can speak? The list is endless! The Bible is full of supernatural tales.
(2) A second problem is that there was not enough time for myth to develop. The original demythologizers pinned their case onto a late second-century date for the writing of the Gospels; several generations have to pass before the added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed to be facts. Eyewitnesses would be around before that to discredit the new, mythic versions. We know of other cases where myths and legends of miracles developed around a religious founder — for example, Buddha, Lao-tzu and Muhammad. In each case, many generations passed before the myth surfaced. Baloney. Check out the myth of Elian Gonzalez and the many myths of appearances by the Virgin Mary. Superstitious people will believe practically anything, and these myths can develop overnight.
The dates for the writing of the Gospels have been pushed back by every empirical manuscript discovery; only abstract hypothesizing pushes the date forward. Almost no knowledgeable scholar today holds what Bultmann said it was necessary to hold in order to believe the myth theory, namely, that there is no first-century textual evidence that Christianity began with a divine and resurrected Christ, not a human and dead one. Please provide even one verifiable first century source that supports the authorship of the Gospels. There are none!
Some scholars still dispute the first-century date for the Gospels, especially John’s. But no one disputes that Paul’s letters were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Christ. So let us argue from Paul’s letters. Either these letters contain myth or they do not. Paul never gives any details of the life of Jesus. All Paul says is that Jesus was born of a woman, died, was buried, and rose again and repeats an early creed about the Lord’s Supper. Paul never mentions even one of Jesus’ miracles, one of Jesus’ sermons, or one of Jesus’ parables. If so, there is lacking the several generations necessary to build up a commonly believed myth. There is not even one generation. If these letters are not myth, then the Gospels are not either, for Paul affirms all the main claims of the Gospels. Paul never says a word about an empty tomb; the cornerstone of the “evidence” presented by Christians for the Resurrection. Why not? Christians tout the empty tomb in every discussion of the Resurrection, but Paul never once mentions it. Very suspicious. I believe it is highly likely that the author of “Mark” invented the concept of an empty tomb and explained the lack of knowledge of this “fact”, even by Paul, as due to “the women fled and said nothing to no one”.Julius Muller put the anti-myth argument this way:
“One cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character [Jesus]….if eyewitnesses were still at hand who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time but prefers the mysterious gloom of gray antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and most rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land.” (The Theory of Myths in Its Application to the Gospel History Examined and Confuted [London, 1844], p. 26)
Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written no earlier than 70 AD and that it was written by a Greek Christian in Antioch, Syria. That is over 35 years after the alleged events. How soon was “Mark’s” book circulated outside of Antioch? We don’t know. However, 35 years is plenty of time for a legend to develop based on a false sighting of Jesus or some other rumor. Most witnesses would be dead by this time Mark was circulating in the general public, due to the short average life span at that time, and the fact that the occupants of Jerusalem and the surrounding area were slaughtered by the Romans in 70 AD.
Muller challenged his nineteenth-century contemporaries to produce a single example anywhere in history of a great myth or legend arising around a historical figure and being generally believed within thirty years after that figure’s death. No one has ever answered him. Well, let’s see. Mohammad’s encounter with the angel Gabriel is one example, and Joseph Smith’s encounter with the angel Moroni is another.
(3) The myth theory has two layers. The first layer is the historical Jesus, who was not divine, did not claim divinity, performed no miracles, and did not rise from the dead. The second, later, mythologized layer is the Gospels as we have them, with a Jesus who claimed to be divine, performed miracles and rose from the dead. The problem with this theory is simply that there is not the slightest bit of any real evidence whatever for the existence of any such first layer. How do you know? We have no writings from anyone in the first 20-25 years after the crucifixion and we have no verifiable eyewitness testimony. The two-layer cake theory has the first layer made entirely of air — and hot air at that.
St. Augustine refutes the two-layer theory with his usual condensed power and simplicity:
“The speech of one Elpidius, who had spoken and disputed face to face against the Manichees, had already begun to affect me at Carthage, when he produced arguments from Scripture which were not easy to answer. And the answer they [the Manichees, who claimed to be the true Christians] gave seemed to me feeble — indeed they preferred not to give it in public but only among ourselves in private — the answer being that the Scriptures of the New Testament had been corrupted by some persons unknown…yet the Manicheans made no effort to produce uncorrupted copies.” (Confessions, V, 11, Sheed translation)
Note the sarcasm in the last sentence. It still applies today. William Lane Craig summarizes the evidence — the lack of evidence:
“The Gospels are a miraculous story, and we have no other story handed down to us than that contained in the Gospels The Gospel of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gnostic Gospels, etc., etc.….The letters of Barnabas and Clement refer to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. Polycarp mentions the resurrection of Christ, and Irenaeus relates that he had heard Polycarp tell of Jesus’ miracles. Why doesn’t Paul speak of even one miracle of Jesus? Ignatius speaks of the resurrection. Puadratus reports that persons were still living who had been healed by Jesus. Justin Martyr mentions the miracles of Christ. No relic of a non-miraculous story exists. That the original story should be lost and replaced by another goes beyond any known example of corruption of even oral tradition, not to speak of the experience of written transmissions. These facts show that the story in the Gospels was in substance the same story that Christians had at the beginning. This means…that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of the story.” (Apologetics, chapter 6) Bad logic.
(4) A little detail, seldom noticed, is significant in distinguishing the Gospels from myth: the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. In first-century Judaism, women had low social status and no legal right to serve as witnesses. If the empty tomb were an invented legend, its inventors surely would not have had it discovered by women, whose testimony was considered worthless. If, on the other hand, the writers were simply reporting what they saw, they would have to tell the truth, however socially and legally inconvenient. Paul, in his epistles, seems to no nothing about women as eyewitnesses nor of an empty tomb. It is much more probable that the story of women being the first witnesses is due to women being the first to have a “sighting” of Jesus in the distance or in a vision.
(5) The New Testament could not be myth misinterpreted and confused with fact because it specifically distinguishes the two and repudiates the mythic interpretation (2 Peter 1:16). II Peter is a fraud. It was considered a work of forgery for so long that it was the last book to make it into the NT canon and not until almost the fifth century, after much debate and controversy. Since it explicitly says it is not myth, if it is myth it is a deliberate lie rather than myth. It is a fabrication by the fraud who wrote II Peter. The dilemma still stands. It is either truth or lie, whether deliberate (conspiracy) or non-deliberate (hallucination). There is no escape from the horns of this dilemma. Once a child asks whether Santa Claus is real, your yes becomes a lie, not myth, if he is not literally real. Once the New Testament distinguishes myth from fact, it becomes a lie if the resurrection is not fact. II Peter is a lie. Seriously, if II Peter were the inspired, inerrant Word of God, why would it take until almost the fifth century for the Christian community to accept it as such? Very fishy.
(6) William Lane Craig has summarized the traditional textual arguments with such clarity, condensation and power that we quote him here at length. The following arguments (rearranged and outlined from Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection) prove two things: first, that the Gospels were written by the disciples (you have given ZERO evidence that the Gospels were written by the disciples; you have only given weak evidence that they were written by eyewitnesses), not later myth-makers, and second, that the Gospels we have today are essentially the same as the originals. (If there are no originals in existence, how do you know this? The spurious, scribe addition to the ending of the Gospel of Mark and the Johannine Commae are proof that the texts have been manipulated, altered, and changed over the course of repeated copying and copying for the first 1500 years since Jesus’ death.
(A) Proof that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses:
(1) Internal evidence, from the Gospels themselves:
(a) The style of writing in the Gospels is simple and alive, what we would expect from their traditionally accepted authors. the Gospels are of such a sophisticated quality that it is impossible a bunch of uneducated peasants wrote them.
(b) Moreover, since Luke was written before Acts, and since Acts was written prior to the death of Paul, Luke must have an early date, which speaks for its authenticity. Most scholars believe that Luke was written after 70 AD, that is more than 35 years after the alleged event and the book was written anonymously. We have no idea for what purpose (historical biography? historical fiction?) this book was written.
(c) The Gospels also show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in A.D. 70. The Gospels are full of proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, and customs and opinions of that time. So the author knows the geography, customs, and details of pre-destruction Jerusalem. Many historical fictions are written by writers who accurately describe the location and culture of the setting they have selected for their fictional characters and supernatural events, such as vampires. Does this mean that their vampire characters are real?
(d) Jesus’ prophecies of that event (the destruction of Jerusalem) must have been written prior to Jerusalem’s fall, for otherwise the church would have separated out the apocalyptic element in the prophecies, which makes them appear to concern the end of the world. Since the end of the world did not come about when Jerusalem was destroyed, the so-called prophecies of its destruction that were really written after the city was destroyed would not have made that event appear so closely connected with the end of the world. Hence, the Gospels must have been written prior to A.D. 70. Don’t buy it. The early Christians, especially the disciples and Paul, expected Jesus imminent return in their life times just as Jesus’ prophesy in Matthew states. Only after Jesus did not return, did later Christians create a new explanation for this prophesy.
(e) The stories of Jesus’ human weaknesses and of the disciples’ faults also bespeak the Gospels’ accuracy. Home’s characters had weaknesses, Achilles as just one example.
(f) Furthermore, it would have been impossible for forgers to put together so consistent a narrative as that which we find in the Gospels. The Gospels do not try to suppress apparent discrepancies, which indicates their originality (written by eyewitnesses). There is no attempt at harmonization between the Gospels, such as we might expect from forgers. I don’t believe that the Gospels were written as forgeries. I believe that the author of Mark wrote down the version of the legend that he had heard, Matthew and Mark plagiarized Mark for most of their material, and “John” used Mark as a bare template for his very, very different “Jesus story”.
(g) The Gospels do not contain anachronisms; the authors appear to have been first-century Jews who were witnesses of the events.
We may conclude that there is no more reason to doubt that the Gospels come from the traditional authors than there is to doubt that the works of Philo or Josephus are authentic, except that the Gospels contain supernatural events. Nonsense. We know who Josephus was. We know who Philo was. We have no idea who wrote the Gospels, where they were written, why they were written, or for whom they were written.
(2) External evidence:
(a) The disciples must have left some writings (major assumption), engaged as they were in giving lessons to and counseling believers who were geographically distant; and what could these writings be if not the Gospels and epistles themselves? Eventually the apostles would have needed to publish accurate narratives of Jesus’ history, so that any spurious attempts would be discredited and the genuine Gospels preserved. Assumption, assumption, assumption. Maybe all of the disciples except Peter were dead within five years of Jesus’ death. We have no way of knowing what these disciples actually did in the two decades after Jesus death, other than what later tradition asserts. Since when do Protestants accept as fact catholic Church traditions?
(b) There were many eyewitnesses who were still alive when the books were written who could testify whether they came from their purported authors or not. If the first gospel, Mark, were written in 70 AD, in Antioch, for a wealth patron, and it sat in the patron’s library for ten years before anyone else ever saw it, most of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus would by then be dead, either from the slaughter in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD or by the limited life expectancy (circa 45) for most people of that time period.
(c) The extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors: the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes, Theophilus, Hippolytus, Origen, Puadratus, Irenaeus, Melito, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Tatian, Caius, Athanasius, Cyril, up to Eusebius in A.D. 315, even Christianity’s opponents conceded this: Celsus, Porphyry, Emperor Julian. The first clear assertion of authorship to the traditional authors does not appear until the end of the second century. Please cite your sources for anyone making such a statement in the first or early second century.
(d) With a single exception, no apocryphal gospel is ever quoted by any known author during the first three hundred years after Christ. In fact there is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatever existed in the first century, in which all four Gospels and Acts were written. Why is the Book of Enoch quoted in the Epistle of Jude as if it is God inspired, yet the catholic Fathers left the Book of Enoch out of the canon? Could it possibly be due to the fact that the Book of Enoch is just too supernatural?
(B) Proof that the Gospels we have today are the same Gospels originally written:
(1) Because of the need for instruction and personal devotion, these writings must have been copied many times, which increases the chances of preserving the original text. Assumption. The spurious addition to Mark, the Johannine Commae, the addition to the stories of the Pool of Bethesda and the Woman caught in Adultery are proof that the texts have been altered.
(2) In fact, no other ancient work is available in so many copies and languages, and yet all these various versions agree in content. The only agree in that Jesus was crucified and that the tomb was empty, beyond that, they vary wildly. They don’t even agree on the location of the Ascension.
(3) The text has also remained unmarred by heretical additions. Adding a completely new ending to the Gospel of Mark is not heretical?? The abundance of manuscripts over a wide geographical distribution demonstrates that the text has been transmitted with only trifling discrepancies. The Johannine Commae is trifling? The differences that do exist are quite minor and are the result of unintentional mistakes. Wrong. The Johannine Commae is the only “passage” in the Bible which clearly spells out the Trinity. The idea that this alteration was done on accident is wishful thinking on the part of inerrantists.
(4) The quotations of the New Testament books in the early Church Fathers all coincide.
(5) The Gospels could not have been corrupted without a great outcry on the part of all orthodox Christians. We have no record of what the earliest Christians believed. The time period between 33 AD and 55 AD is one big black hole of literary and historical silence.
(6) No one could have corrupted all the manuscripts. The Gospel of Mark is the obvious template for the other three Gospels.
(7) There is no precise time when the falsification could have occurred, since, as we have seen, the New Testament books are cited by the Church Fathers in regular and close succession. Not true. There is no specific testimony as to the authorship of the four Gospels until Irenaeus in 180 AD in far away France. The text could not have been falsified before all external testimony, since then the apostles were still alive and could repudiate such tampering. For all we know, whoever wrote the four Gospels never showed them to anyone until long after every apostle and eyewitness to the crucifixion was dead. We just do not have any first century evidence as to the authorship or the validity of the four gospels being eyewitness testimony.
(8) The text of the New Testament is every bit as good as the text of the classical works of antiquity. To repudiate the textual parity of the Gospels would be to reverse all the rules of criticism and to reject all the works of antiquity, since the text of those works is less certain than that of the Gospels. No one declares that the words of Homer, for instance, as stated in the Iliad, are the very words of the Creator, to be obeyed and worshipped, or face eternal damnation. So if Homer is not the author of the Iliad, it is inconsequential. The authorship of the Gospels is the foundation of the validity of the Christian Faith. If good evidence does not exist, then the Bible should be given no more creedance than the alleged writings of Homer, Philo, or Josephus.
Richard Purtill summarizes the textual case:
“Many events which are regarded as firmly established historically have (1) far less documentary evidence than many biblical events; (2) and the documents on which historians rely for much secular history are written much longer after the event than many records of biblical events; (3) furthermore, we have many more copies of biblical narratives than of secular histories; and (4) the surviving copies are much earlier than those on which our evidence for secular history is based. If the biblical narratives did not contain accounts of miraculous events, biblical history would probably be regarded as much more firmly established than most of the history of, say, classical Greece and Rome.” (Thinking About Religion, p. 84-85) No one is claiming that all the historical assertions in the Bible are false or incorrect. But, just because many historical aspects in the Bible are correct, doesn’t mean that all aspects of the story are true and historical. In historical fictions and in legends, the good skeptic/historian must examine the evidence to differentiate the two.
Conclusions: More Objections Answered
No alternative to a real resurrection has yet explained: the existence of the Gospels, the origin of the Christian faith, the failure of Christ’s enemies to produce his corpse, the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the accounts of the post-resurrection appearances. Actually, a legend built on a kernel of truth is the most likely source of the Gospels. The reason Jesus’ body was never found is that it was tossed into a common grave with other executed criminals. Can you imagine Pontius Pilate allowing a pretender, a usurper, to his rule (Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews) to be buried in a rich man’s tomb, to serve as an everlasting shrine to Jesus’ radical, trouble-making followers?? No way. The Romans got rid of the body like they always did. The “tomb story” is a later embellishment. Paul knows nothing about it. Swoon, conspiracy, hallucination and myth have been shown to be the only alternatives to a real resurrection, and each has been refuted. You forgot “legend”.
What reasons could be given at this point for anyone who still would refuse to believe?
At this point, general rather than specific objections are usually given. For instance:
Objection 1 : History is not an exact science. It does not yield absolute certainty like mathematics.
Reply : This is true, but why would you note that fact now and not when you speak of Caesar or Luther or George Washington? History is not exact, but it is sufficient. No one doubts that Caesar crossed the Rubicon; why do many doubt that Jesus rose from the dead? We have known, signed, eyewitness testimony from several sources about Caesar crossing the Rubicon. We have four anonymous books written decades after the alleged event as “evidence” for the most spectacular supernatural event= the resurrection of a dead man. The evidence for the latter is much better than for the former. False.
Objection 2 : You can’t trust documents. Paper proves nothing. Anything can be forged.
Reply : This is simply ignorance. Not trusting documents is like not trusting telescopes. Paper evidence suffices for most of what we believe; why should it suddenly become suspect here? I and more than happy to trust documents…if I know who wrote them and there is some corroboration about who wrote them and the facts asserted in the document.
Objection 3 : Because the resurrection is miraculous. It’s the content of the idea rather than the documentary evidence for it that makes it incredible. The author of this article has given zero evidence of any eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection. None. He has only given conjecture, assumptions, and second century hearsay.
Reply : Now we finally have a straightforward objection — not to the documentary evidence but to miracles. This is a philosophical question, not a scientific, historical or textual question. (See chapter five in this book for an answer).
Objection 4 : It’s not only miracles in general but this miracle in particular that is objectionable. The resurrection of a corpse is crass, crude, vulgar, literalistic and materialistic. Religion should be more spiritual, inward, ethical.
Reply : If religion is what we invent, we can make it whatever we like. If it is what God invented, then we have to take it as we find it, just as we have to take the universe as we find it, rather than as we’d like it to be. Death is crass, crude, vulgar, literal and material. The resurrection meets death where it is and conquers it, rather than merely spouting some harmless, vaporous abstractions about spirituality. The resurrection is as vulgar as the God who did it. He also made mud and bugs and toenails.
Objection 5 : But a literalistic interpretation of the resurrection ignores the profound dimensions of meaning found in the symbolic, spiritual and mythic realms that have been deeply explored by other religions. Why are Christians so narrow and exclusive? Why can’t they see the profound symbolism in the idea of resurrection?
Reply : They can. It’s not either-or. Christianity does not invalidate the myths, it validates them, by incarnating them. It is “myth become fact,” to use the title of a germane essay by C.S. Lewis (in God in the Dock). Why prefer a one-layer cake to a two-layer cake? Why refuse either the literal-historical or the mythic-symbolic aspects of the resurrection? The Fundamentalist refuses the mythic-symbolic aspects because he has seen what the Modernist has done with it: used it to exclude the literal-historical aspects. Why have the Modernists done that? What terrible fate awaits them if they follow the multifarious and weighty evidence and argument that naturally emerges from the data, as we have summarized it here in this chapter? If liberal Christians want to believe in a “spiritual resurrection” that is fine by me, but if a fundamentalist Christian is going to tell me that there is evidence for this supernatural event, he is going to have to come up with more than assumptions, conjecture, and hearsay to convince me.
The answer is not obscure: traditional Christianity awaits them, complete with adoration of Christ as God, obedience to Christ as Lord, dependence on Christ as Savior, humble confession of sin and a serious effort to live Christ’s life of self-sacrifice, detachment from the world, righteousness, holiness and purity of thought, word and deed. The historical evidence is massive enough to convince the open-minded inquirer. No, not true. Not only is there not “massive evidence” there is no evidence. People who buy this information as “evidence” have other reasons for believing, such as an emotional need to feel as if there is purpose to life or comfort that death is not the end. There is no evidence.
Give me first century statements as to the authorship of the Gospels. That is what I want and Christians do not have it.
By analogy with any other historical event, the resurrection has eminently credible evidence behind it. To disbelieve it, you must deliberately make an exception to the rules you use everywhere else in history. Nonsense. You believe this very weak “evidence” because you want to believe. If this same story were in the Koran or the Book of Mormon you would laugh at it and call it nonsense. Now why would someone want to do that? Yes, that’s right. The real reason why I and other skeptics won’t believe is that we have “hardened” our hearts against God and refuse to believe the “massive” evidence. No, Christian, we do not believe because the Christian supernatural tale has no more evidence than the supernatural tales of the Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons. THAT is why we don’t believe. What Christians need to ask themselves is this: Why are the supernatural teachings of every other religion on the planet silly and ignorant but yours are unquestioned historical fact?
Ask yourself that question if you dare, and take an honest look into your heart before you answer. Give me actual evidence and I will drop to my knees, repent, and believe in a heart beat. But show me the evidence first!
From chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft/Fr. Ronald Tacelli, SJ (Intervarsity Press, 1994)