I thought it would be interesting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from the orthodox/conservative/evangelical Christian stand point, excluding, however, baseless assumptions. I am excluding fundamentalists in this discussion because fundamentalist Christian views are so extreme that it would be hopeless to try and reconcile them with the actual evidence. Some fundamentalists would probably believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down and wrote their gospels within ten minutes of the Ascension.
A. The Gospel of Mark
So, let’s start with the first gospel written, as almost all scholars agree: the gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe that it was written sometime between 65-75 AD. So let’s accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel: mid 60’s, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
1. Who wrote Mark: the gospel itself does not tell us. No clear assignment of authorship is given until Irenaeus in the late second century. Yes, Papias in the early second century mentions that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel, but Papias does not identify the gospel.
2. Where was Mark written? We don’t know. Most scholars do not believe that Mark was written in Palestine, but let’s just say that it was. So the gospel is written 30-35 years after Jesus’ death in 30-33 AD. Historians tell us that the average life span of people in the first century was age 45. How many people would still be alive in 65 AD who had been old enough to witness the crucifixion of Jesus? If you were fifteen in the year 30 AD, you would now be fifty in 65 AD, above the average first century life span. And I would bet that even most fundamentalist Christians would believe that the disciples were older than fifteen at the time of the crucifixion. So let’s say that the disciples of Jesus were between twenty and thirty years old in 30 AD. That would make them fifty-five to sixty-five years old in 65 AD, if they were still alive! We have no proof that any of the disciples were still alive in 65 AD.
3. Even if Mark were written in Palestine, 30 years after the death of Jesus, and there were still people alive who witnessed the resurrection, how soon was the gospel put into public circulation? Maybe the author wrote it for just one wealthy benefactor. Maybe he wrote it just for his small group of Christians, none of whom were old enough to remember the crucifixion. Maybe the gospel was not put into public circulation until after 70 AD. If true, the entire city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, most of its inhabitants are dead or carried off. If there had been a tomb of Jesus, who would now be alive to point out where it was. Remember, all this is assuming that the gospel was written in Palestine or at least circulated in Palestine in the 60’s or 70’s. For all we know, the gospel of Mark was written in Rome and copies of it did not arrive in Palestine until after 100 AD or later! Who would still be alive to say, “Hey, that’s not what happened!”?
4. Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.
Even if Jesus did prophesy/predict the destruction of the Temple, is this proof that he is God? If someone living in Europe in the mid 1930’s had predicted that Europe would be devastated by a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would we believe that this person was God? Just because someone predicts something that comes true is not proof that they are divine.
5. Was the author of Mark an eyewitness to the Resurrection?
The author of Mark never claims to be an eyewitness. He even writes in the third person. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the author was not an eyewitness but to say he was is simply a guess.
B. The Gospel of Matthew
1. Who wrote Matthew? The author does not tell us. The assignment of the apostle Matthew as author of this gospel is not mentioned until the late second century by Irenaeus.
2. Most scholars believe that Matthew was written after Mark and that one can find 70% of the content of Mark within Matthew, often word for word.
3. Where was Matthew written? We have no idea. Again, for all we know, it could have been written in a foreign country, far away from any eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. We have no idea when it was first circulated in Palestine for any elderly eyewitness to say, “Hey. That isn’t what happened!”
4. Was Matthew an eyewitness to the Resurrection?
The author of Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness. He writes in the third person. Again, not proof that he was not an eyewitness but to say he was is no better than a guess. The author of Matthew could simply have been writing a story he had heard third, fourth, or twentieth hand.
C. The Gospel of Luke
1. Who wrote Luke? The author of Luke does not say. No clear assignment of authorship of this gospel is given until the late second century by Ireneaus.
2. Where was Luke written? We have no idea.
3. The author of the Gospel of Luke also borrows heavily from the Gospel of Mark. Approximately 50-55% of the content of Mark can be found in Luke, frequently, word of word.
4. Was the author of Luke an eyewitness?
Luke very clearly states in the first few verses of chapter one that he is not an eyewitness. He states that he carefully investigated the writings of others (Mark and “Q”?) which he didn’t seem to find satisfactory, and that his sources had given him eyewitnesses testimony. However, he does not identify his sources. Were his sources eyewitnesses themselves or were his sources associates of eyewitnesses giving him “eyewitness” testimony from their source or sources, which would make Luke’s information, at best, second hand information.
D. The Gospel of John
Many conservative Christians believe that the author of John infers that he is John, the son of Zebedee, by using the term “the beloved disciple”. I personally (and many scholars) do not think that the author of John is referring to himself as the beloved disciple but is claiming to be recounting the story of the beloved disciple. But let’s assume that the author of the Gospel of John does claim to be John, the beloved disciple. What evidence do we have to determine if his claim is true? Do we have any contemporary Christian or non-Christian testimony that states that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John? No. We do not. The assignment of authorship of this gospel is not made until the end of the second century, again, by Ireneaus. Papias makes no mention of this gospel.
So just because someone claimed to be John, the beloved disciple, recounting an eyewitness account of the life, death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus, should we take him at his word?? Many, many “gospels” were floating around the Mediterranean world in the late first and second centuries. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter may have been written even earlier than Mark! Yet, no one, including fundamentalists, believes that the apostle Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter. So, how do we know that the author of the Gospel of John, if he really was claiming to be John, was really John, the beloved disciple, son of Zebedee?? The fact is, that we have no more evidence that John wrote the Gospel of John than we do that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter, other than Irenaeus’ declaration in 180 AD, in France, one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion, that the four gospels we have today were written by the persons that he asserts, based upon evidence, that he never gives!
E. What Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus do we have so far?
We have four first century books describing the alleged facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but only one, (maybe), claims to be an eyewitness testimony.
Dozens of Romans senators claimed that the first Roman king, Romulus, was snatched up into heaven right in front of their eyes…but no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.
Thirteen men living in the early nineteenth century signed legal affidavits, swearing under oath, that they personally had seen the Golden Tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni with their own two eyes, and three of these men signed affidavits that they had seen the angel Moroni himself with their own two eyes…but yet no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.
Thousands upon thousands of devout, pious Roman Catholics have claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, alive, often many hundreds or even thousands together in the same location, at the same time…but no Protestant or evangelical Christian denomination believes this eyewitness testimony to be true.
Yet, Protestant/evangelical Christians will believe as absolute fact, that a first century dead man walked out of his tomb after three days of decomposing, ate a broiled fish lunch with his friends, and then levitated into outer space based on the testimony of…one…,possible, eyewitness’ testimony!
F. But what about the Apostle Paul?
The testimony of Saul/Paul of Tarsus is used by Christians as secondary proof of the Resurrection of Jesus. Christians do not allege that Paul saw a resurrected Jesus prior to his Ascension into Heaven. In I Corinthians Paul makes this statement, “Have I not seen the Christ?”
But when Paul says he has “seen” the Christ, what did he see actually? Well, Acts chapter 26 tells us exactly what Paul saw, in his own words: Paul saw a talking, bright light that told him that it (the talking, bright light) was Jesus. And, Paul very specifically states, that he saw this talking, bright light…”in a heavenly vision”.
Talking bright lights are not resurrected bodies and visions are not reality.
Yes, Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, but there is no evidence that Paul believed this due to seeing a resurrected body. Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, so if Paul believed that the talking, bright light speaking to him on the Damascus Road was the executed Jesus, then he would of course believe that he had seen the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even if he had actually not seen a body, but only a bright light!
The belief that a first century dead man, named Jesus, walked out of his tomb with a new, superman-like body that could teleport between cities (Emmaus and Jerusalem), could walk through locked doors (the Upper Room), and could teleport into outer space (the Ascension) is based on one alleged eyewitness who wrote a book 40-60 years after the alleged event, whose authorship was not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian until 150 years later, at the end of the second century, when it was finally called the Gospel of John…and…on the “heavenly vision” of a vision prone Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul of Tarsus (who also said that he was teleported to the “third heaven”. What other writer of the Bible refers to the concept of multiple heavens?)
And we are asked to believe that based on this “evidence”, Jesus of Nazareth now sits on a throne in the far reaches of outer space, ruling as our Almighty Lord and King of the Universe??
The Romans and Mormons have better evidence for their supernatural tall tales than this tale! It is an ancient legend, folks. A fantastic, supernatural superstition. The chances that it is true are infintisimal.