I guess fundamentalist Baptist pastor and childhood family friend, “Pastor Bill” (previous post) is not interested in discussing my loss of faith here on my blog. He sent me an email today asking me to read the following article in support of the Resurrection. I will insert my comments within the text of his article in red. I went through this pretty fast, as I have heard these arguments (and refuted them) many times before, so please excuse any typos or incomplete thoughts. Point them out to me and I will be happy to correct them or finish the thought.
So why am I not interested in having a one on one private email conversation regarding my loss of faith with Pastor Bill, a good man and childhood family friend? Answer: he is a member of a cult. I would encourage all ex-cult members to NEVER have a private conversation with a member of your former cult. ALWAYS have witnesses present. That is why if Pastor Bill wishes to discuss my loss of faith, he must do it here, and not in private correspondence.
“WHAT ABOUT THIS RESURRECTION?”
For centuries many of the world’s distinguished philosophers have assaulted Christianity as being irrational, superstitious and absurd. Many have chosen simply to ignore the central issue of the resurrection. Others have tried to explain it away through various theories. But the historical evidence just can’t be discounted.
A student at the University of Uruguay said to me. “Professor, why can’t you refute Christianity?”
“For a very simple reason,” I answered. “I am not able to explain away an event in history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
How can we explain the empty tomb? Can it possibly be accounted for by any natural cause?
A QUESTION OF HISTORY
After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings—or it is the most remarkable fact of history . Why can’t it be the most likely cause of a false, superstitious belief: a legend?
Here are some of the facts relevant to the resurrection: Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Christ prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures, was arrested, was judged a political criminal, and was crucified. Three days after His death and burial, some women who went to His tomb found the body gone. How do we know this “fact”? Answer: four anonymous, first century authors say so. In subsequent weeks, His disciples claimed that God had raised Him from the dead and that He appeared to them various times before ascending into heaven.
From that foundation, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and has continued to exert great influence down through the centuries.
The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were being circulated within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of such accounts. Assumption. If the first gospel, Mark, was written in 65-75 AD, in Rome or Antioch, as many scholars believe, who is going to be around to verify the accuracy of the story? Were the Eleven still alive? Was anyone else who witnessed the crucifixion still alive? And even if they were, when did a copy of the Gospel of Mark finally reach Palestine where the “eyewitnesses” lived? Even if the Gospel of Mark was written earlier, we have no proof when it was in circulation in Palestine, available to eyewitnesses to verify. So when did the Gospel of Mark reach Palestine? Answer: We don’t know, but possibly not until the end of the first century, and by then most everyone involved in the story would be dead.
The writers of the four Gospels either had themselves been witnesses or else were relating the accounts of eyewitnesses of the actual events Assumption. We have no verifiable proof of this claim. None of the authors explicitly states that he was an eyewitness. Luke explicitly states he was not. Only if one assumes a priori that the Gospels are the Words of God can one believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. NO ONE in the early Christian Church refers to the authorship of these four books until the end of the second century, long after any “eyewitness” would be dead. In advocating their case for the gospel, a word that means “good news,” the apostles appealed (even when confronting their most severe opponents) to common knowledge concerning the facts of the resurrection. How do we know what anyone in Christianity was saying or knew in the time period prior to Paul’s epistles —circa 55 AD? We don’t. For all we know, the earliest disciples believed that Jesus’ body had been tossed into a common, unmarked grave, as was the usual practice of the Romans. The belief that he was resurrected was based on false sightings and/or visions and hallucinations. The story of an empty tomb and physically touching Jesus were simply later embellishments to the oral story as it was told and retold as it made its way from Palestine across the Roman world over the decades prior to the writing of the Gospel of Mark. Paul seems to know nothing about an empty tomb, or even a tomb. All Paul says is that Jesus was “buried”. Buried can mean in a tomb or in the ground.
F. F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, says concerning the value of the New Testament records as primary sources: “Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.” Professor Rylands obviously did not consider the very real possibilities I have mentioned above.
IS THE NEW TESTAMENT RELIABLE?
Because the New Testament provides the primary historical source for information on the resurrection, many critics during the 19th century attacked the reliability of these biblical documents.
By the end of the 1 9th century, however, archaeological discoveries had confirmed the accuracy of the New Testament manuscripts. Discoveries of early papyri bridged the gap between the time of Christ and existing manuscripts from a later date. Just because you find a lot of copies of Cinderella does not mean that all the magical claims in Cinderella are historical facts. That is the issue, not whether or not the Gospels are actual first century writings.
Those findings increased scholarly confidence in the reliability of the Bible. William F. Albright, who in his day was the world’s foremost biblical archaeologist, said: “We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.” Albright is out of date. Anyone keeping up with Biblical scholarship knows that the majority of NT scholars no longer hold this position. The majority of scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written circa 65-75 AD, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were written in 75-85 AD, and the Gospel of John was written in 90-110 AD. Only fundamentalist Christians still hold Albright’s position, and they are considered a fringe minority.
Coinciding with the papyri discoveries, an abundance of other manuscripts came to light (over 24,000 copies of early New Testament manuscripts are known to be in existence today). The historian Luke wrote of “authentic evidence” concerning the resurrection. Sir William Ramsay, who spent 15 years attempting to undermine Luke credentials as a historian, and to refute the reliability of the New Testament, finally concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. ”
I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history . . .
E. M. Blaiklock
Professor of Classics
Blalock is a Christian. He is already a believer in the supernatural claims of the Bible. So we should take as much heed of Mr. Blaiklock’s opinion as we should of a Muslim scholar who asserts the historicity of Mohammad flying on a winged horse to Jerusalem. “Expert opinion” is considered a very soft form of evidence. I assert that this is all Christians have for their belief in a Resurrection: soft, very soft evidence.
The New Testament witnesses were fully aware of the background against which the resurrection took place. The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen cloth. About 100 pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together to form a gummy substance, were applied to the wrappings of cloth about the body. After the body was placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. Large stones weighing approximately two tons were normally rolled (by means of levers) against a tomb entrance. Assumption. All these details could very well be legendary embellishments. We have no idea whether these events really happened. Remember we are reading these details in four books written decades after the event, by unknown authors,
A Roman guard of strictly disciplined fighting men was stationed to guard the tomb. Not until the next day. So even if there was a ten minute time period between Arimethea placing the body inside and the guards arriving, that is enough time to steal the body. (The door was not sealed until the guards arrived the next day.) This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal, which was meant to “prevent any attempt at vandalizing the sepulcher. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb’s entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.
But three days later the tomb was empty. There are plenty of natural explanations to explain an empty tomb…if there ever was one. For instance, maybe after Passover was ended (Saturday sundown) the Sanhedrin asked Pilate to let them move the body out of Arimethea’s tomb and place it in a common, unmarked criminals’ grave to prevent the tomb from becoming a Christian shrine. Maybe the only reason they put the body in Arimethea’s tomb was that it was almost sundown and they didn’t want to defile the Sabbath and Armethea’s grave was the closest and easiest option for a temporary burial. Pilate agrees to their request. Every thing is done in the dark of Saturday night…and the women show up Sunday morning…and the tomb is empty with the stone rolled away and the seal broken. The disciples believe Jesus is risen! Decades later, the legend of Jesus’ resurrection includes an empty tomb in Mark’s original gospel, without any post-resurrection appearances. Only in Matthew, Luke’s, and John’s later gospels do we start seeing post-resurrection appearances. If Jesus had really appeared to people after his death, why did Mark’s original ending not include them?? Most likely reason: they are later embellishments to the oral legend.
The followers of Jesus said He had risen from the dead. They reported that He appeared to them during a period of 40 days, showing Himself to them by many “infallible proofs.” If the Gospels are true, historically accurate accounts, yes. But, if they are embellishments of an oral legend, these are NOT infallible proofs.
Paul the apostle recounted that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and who could confirm what Paul wrote. Paul himself says he received this information from others Was this information second-hand information or was it “twentieth-hand” information? We will never know, so we will never know how accurate this claim is. Thousands have claimed to see the Virgin Mary all at once. Why don’t Protestant Christians believe these “eyewitness” reports??
So many security precautions were taken with the trial, crucifixion, burial, entombment, sealing, and guarding of Christ’s tomb that it becomes very difficult for critics to defend their position that Christ did not rise from the dead. If you read Matthew 27 it is clear that there was a gap in time in which the tomb was not guarded. Even if this time period was ten minutes, that is plenty of time for a group of grave robbers, disciples, or family members to roll back the unsealed stone, grab the body, move the stone back, and take off into the darkness. The “stolen body” or the above “moved body” explanations are much more probable than that an ancient Hebrew god raised a decomposing, three-days-dead man from the grave.
Consider these facts:
FACT #1: BROKEN ROMAN SEAL
As we have said, the first obvious fact was the breaking of the seal that stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. The FBI and CIA of the Roman Empire were called into action to find the man or men who were responsible. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. People feared the breaking of the seal. Jesus’ disciples displayed signs of cowardice when they hid themselves. Peter, one of these disciples, went out and denied Christ three times. Here is one possible scenario: the body of Jesus is stolen early on Saturday before the guards arrive and seal the tomb. The guards are sloppy. They do not roll the stone back and check that the body is still there. They simply seal the stone and stand guard. Sunday morning, Galilean peasants are running all over Jerusalem saying that Jesus will be resurrected that day. The Sanhedrin asks Pilate to allow the guards to break the seal and open the grave with the intention of allowing the public to view Jesus’ rotting corpse. However, to their horror, when the guard roll the stone back, the grave is empty! The Sanhedrin fears that an empty tomb will increase the number of conversions to the new sect so they and Pilate agree that the disciples will be blamed for stealing the body…and the persecution of Christians begins.
Didn’t happen, you say. How do you know?
FACT #2: EMPTY TOMB
As we have already discussed, another obvious fact after the resurrection was the empty tomb. There is no evidence for an empty tomb other than the four anonymous gospels. Not even Paul mentions an empty tomb. The disciples of Christ did not go off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ was raised from the dead. Rather, they went right back to the city of Jerusalem, where, if what they were teaching was false, the falsity would be evident. We have no evidence that any Christian was preaching an empty tomb in the first few decades after the death of Jesus. Is an empty tomb mentioned in Acts?) The empty tomb was “too notorious to be denied.” Paul Althaus states that the resurrection “could have not been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.” But if Christians were simply preaching a Resurrection, and not an empty tomb, that would eliminate this “evidence” wouldn’t it? If Jesus body had been tossed into an unmarked, common criminal’s grave as was Roman custom, there would be no empty tomb or grave to check!
Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth‑century Jewish writings called the “Toledoth Jeshu.” Dr. Paul Maier calls this “positive evidence from a hostile source, which is the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favor, then that fact is genuine.” What??? Please provide any Roman source that says that there was an empty tomb. Josephus may have made a very brief comment about Jesus, but I am not aware that Josephus ever mentioned an empty tomb or even a resurrection! Just because Josephus mentions Jesus is not proof that Jesus rose from the dead.
Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement was God’s doing; he could not have done that if the tomb were still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of Christ’s body. Do you have any statement by Gamaliel that the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus was based on an empty tomb??
Paul Maier observes that ” . . . if all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove this statement.” No evidence has ever been produced that disproves the existence of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable either…but that isn’t proof that they really did exist.
FACT #3: LARGE STONE MOVED
On that Sunday morning the first thing that impressed the people who approached the tomb was the unusual position of the one and a half to two ton stone that had been lodged in front of the doorway. All the Gospel writers mention it.
There exists no document from the ancient world, witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies . . . Skepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational bias. There are several possible natural explanations for the stone being rolled away, as I have mentioned above. That “an angel did it” is the least probable explanation. And why does the resurrected Son of God need an angel to move the stone, anyway?? If he can walk through closed doors, teleport from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back, and ascend/levitate into outer space, he can move one big rock! Sure sounds like an embellishment, to me.
Those who observed the stone after the resurrection describe its position as having been rolled up a slope away not just from the entrance of the tomb, but from the entire massive sepulcher. It was in such a position that it looked as if it had been picked up and carried away. Now, I ask you, if the disciples had wanted to come in, tiptoe around the sleeping guards, and then roll the stone over and steal Jesus’ body, how could they have done that without the guards’ awareness? There were no guards for a brief period of time in Matthew’s account…and there were zero guards in Mark, Luke, and John’s account! I think the whole guard thing is an embellishment, anyway. Matthew had a flare for wild details. Matthew is the only gospel author who has dead people shaken out of their graves by the earthquake, to walk the streets of Jerusalem, chatting with family and old acquaintances. “Zombies in Jerusalem!” would read every report in the Roman world. But, no mention of zombies.
FACT #4: ROMAN GUARD GOES AWOL
The Roman guards fled. They left their place of responsibility. Yes, if we are going to believe Matthew’s tall tale, which I don’t. Look, folks. Luke says in Luke chapter one that he studied all the previous written accounts about Jesus, wouldn’t that include Matthew’s story? So why did Luke leave out Matthew’s accounts about zombies and guards?? How can their attrition be explained, when Roman military discipline was so exceptional? Justin, in Digest #49, mentions all the offenses that required the death penalty. The fear of their superiors’ wrath and the possibility of death meant that they paid close attention to the minutest details of their jobs. One way a guard was put to death was by being stripped of his clothes and then burned alive in a fire started with his garments. If it was not apparent which soldier had failed in his duty, then lots were drawn to see which one would be punished with death for the guard unit’s failure. Certainly the entire unit would not have fallen asleep with that kind of threat over their heads. Dr. George Currie, a student of Roman military discipline, wrote that fear of punishment “produced flawless attention to duty, especially in the night watches.” The whole Roman guard story is Matthew’s wild invention.
FACT #5: GRAVE CLOTHES TELL A TALE
In a literal sense, against all statements to the contrary, the tomb was not totally empty—because of an amazing phenomenon. John, a disciple of Jesus, looked over to the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, in the form of the body, slightly caved in and empty—like the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar’s cocoon. That’s enough to make a believer out of anybody. John never did get over it. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothes—undisturbed in form and position. How do you know this is a true historical detail and not an embellishment? This is the problem with Christians: they assume a priori that the Gospels are 100% historically accurate, without proving why we should believe this.
FACT #6: JESUS’ APPEARANCES CONFIRMED
Christ appeared alive on several occasions after the cataclysmic events of that first Easter . When studying an event in history, it is important to know whether enough people who were participants or eyewitnesses to the event were alive when the facts about the event were published. To know this is obviously helpful in ascertaining the accuracy of the published report. If the number of eyewitnesses is substantial, the event can he regarded as fairly well established. For instance, if we all witness a murder, and a later police report turns out to he a fabrication of lies, we as eyewitnesses can refute it. 70,000 people say that they witnessed, at the same time, the Virgin Mary appear at Fatima. So let’s all become Roman Catholics!
OVER 500 WITNESSES
Several very important factors are often overlooked when considering Christ’s post‑resurrection appearances to individuals. The first is the large number of witnesses of Christ after that resurrection morning. This is hearsay. Paul does not say that he witnessed the event with these people. He is reporting, at best, second hand information. In addition, Paul does not say that he knows any of these 500 witnesses or that he has corroborated their stories.
One of the earliest records of Christ’s appearing after the resurrection is by Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience’s knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those people were still alive and could be questioned. Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi, associate professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, emphasizes: “What gives a special authority to the list (of witnesses) as historical evidence is the reference to most of the five hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul says in effect, ‘If you do not believe me, you can ask them.’ Such a statement in an admittedly genuine letter written within thirty years of the event is almost as strong evidence as one could hope to get for something that happened nearly two thousand years ago.” It’s hearsay. Period. Paul does not say he witnessed the event with these 500 people or that he personally has met them, interviewed them, or corroborated their claims.
Let’s take the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial, and place them in a courtroom. Do you realize that if each of those 500 people were to testify for only six minutes, including cross‑examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony? Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you would well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history.
Attorney: Your Honor, I would like to present eyewitnesses who claim that they saw a dead man walk out of his grave.
Judge: Ok, what are their names?
Attorney: Uh. I don’t have their names.
Judge: What? How can you say that you have eyewitnesses if you don’t even know their names??
Attorney: Well, we have four anonymous authors who say that the Eleven apostles saw and touched the resurrected body of the deceased.
Judge: inadmissible. Until you can come up with the names of the four authors, and we can examine their credibility, this evidence is inadmissible. Do you have anything else?
Attorney: Yes, your Honor. Paul of Tarsus says that 500 people saw the deceased man alive all at the same time.
Judge: And you are going to give me the name of these 500 eyewitnesses, right?
Attorney: Sorry, your Honor. Paul doesn’t have their names, but he says that someone very reliable told him that someone had told them, that the 500 people are still alive and can be questioned.
Judge: Inadmissable! You are trying my patience, Counselor! Is that all?
Attorney: No your Honor. I call Paul of Tarsus to the stand!
(addressing Paul on the witness stand): Did you see the deceased walking, talking, and eating broiled fish after his public execution and burial?
Paul: Yes, your Honor, I have seen the Christ!
Judge: Finally we are getting somewhere!
Attorney: Mr. Paul, please describe to the court the man whom you saw on the Damascus Road that night.
Paul: Well, I didn’t actually see a body.
Attorney: What do you mean?
Paul: Well, I didn’t see a body. I only saw a really bright light…and it started talking to me…and said its name was Jesus. My companions didn’t see the light but they heard a voice…I mean, they didn’t hear anything but they too saw the bright light…well I’m not sure what my companions saw or heard but I know I saw the talking bright light! It is the same talking bright light that I saw on my intergalactice space oddessey to the Third Heaven. It was so incredible but the talking, bright light said I could tell no man about it, and…
Judge: Case dismissed! Put that man in handcuffs and send him over to the county mental hospital for a full evaluation by Dr. Brewster.
Court Clerk: Next case!
Another factor crucial to interpreting Christ’s appearances is that He also appeared to those who were hostile or unconvinced.
Over and over again, I have read or heard people comment that Jesus was seen alive after His death and burial only by His friends and followers. Using that argument, they attempt to water down the overwhelming impact of the multiple eyewitness accounts. But that line of reasoning is so pathetic it hardly deserves comment. No author or informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus as being a follower of Christ. The facts show the exact opposite. Saul despised Christ and persecuted Christ’s followers. It was a life‑shattering experience when Christ appeared to him. Although he was at the time not a disciple, he later became the apostle Paul, one of the greatest witnesses for the truth of the resurrection. There is a man in Israel today, who used to be an orthodox Jewish settler and rabbi. Today he is a Jew-hating Muslim cleric! Weird conversions, even from Judaism, happen. Odd conversions are NOT proof of the veracity of a new belief system.
If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. Go to your local public university and look at a freshman history book. If you can find a history book that states that the Resurrection of Jesus is historical fact, I’ve got some land to sell you in South Florida.
F. F. Bruce
The argument that Christ’s appearances were only to followers is an argument for the most part from silence, and arguments from silence can be dangerous. It is equally possible that all to whom Jesus appeared became followers. No one acquainted with the facts can accurately say that Jesus appeared to just “an insignificant few.”
Christians believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. The difficulties of belief may be great, but the problems inherent in unbelief present even greater difficulties. Unsubstantiated claim.
The theories advanced to explain the resurrection by “natural causes” are weak; they actually help to build confidence in the truth of the resurrection. Nonsense.
THE WRONG TOMB?
A theory propounded by Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on the women’s statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb. We may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus’ body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there!
If the resurrection‑claim was merely because of a geographical mistake, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor resurrection. Or the whole empty tomb story is a later embellishment.
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations. Unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations, this theory also does not coincide with the historical situation. Again, where was the actual body, and why wasn’t it produced? It was most likely in an unmarked hole in the ground.
As mentioned above, thousands of Roman Catholics have seen supernatural beings at the same time. Thousands of Hindus say they watched, at the same time, their Hindu idols drink milk from spoons offered to them. Superstitious people will believe superstitious claims when they are part of their religious belief system. When they are part of someone else’s religious belief systems, they for some reason find them unconvincing.
DID JESUS SWOON?
Another theory, popularized by Venturini several centuries ago, is often quoted today. This is the swoon theory, which says that Jesus didn’t die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought Him dead, but later He resuscitated and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection. Skeptic David Friedrich Strauss—certainly no believer in the resurrection—gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus revived from a swoon: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half‑dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life,
For the New Testament of Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.
A. N. Sherwin‑White
Classical Roman Historian
an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.” I don’t believe the Swoon Theory.
THE BODY STOLEN?
Then consider the theory that the body was stolen by the disciples while the guards slept. No, if the body was stolen it was stolen prior to the guards arriving on Saturday and sealing the tomb. The depression and cowardice of the disciples provide a hard‑hitting argument against their suddenly becoming so brave and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the tomb and steal the body. They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.
The theory that the Jewish or Roman authorities moved Christ’s body is no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why, when the disciples were preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem, didn’t they explain: “Wait! We moved the body, see, He didn’t rise from the grave”?
And if such a rebuttal failed, why didn’t they explain exactly where Jesus’ body lay? If this failed, why didn’t they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem? Such an action would have destroyed Christianity—not in the cradle, but in the womb!
Only the Bible seems to consider the early Christians as a movement of concern to Rome and the Jews. How much attention do we give to the claims of small, fanatical sects in our day? It is quite possible that the Christians started claiming a resurrection based solely on false sightings and/or visions…and the Jews and Romans could care less. The Jewish King pretender was dead, and that is all that mattered to them.
THE RESURRECTION IS A FACT
Professor Thomas Arnold, for 14 years a headmaster of Rugby, author of the famous, History of Rome, and appointed to the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said: “I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” Brooke Foss Westcott, an English scholar, said: “raking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it.”
Once again, Christians trumpeting their belief…in their belief. Big shock.
Let’s ask Muslim and Jewish scholars if they believe that Jesus rose from the dead. What do you think the overwhelming majority of these scholars will say? Answer: “It’s nonsense!”
REAL PROOF: THE DISCIPLES’ LIVES
But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ? They believed that Jesus had been resurrected! But that doesn’t mean that he had!
Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts—prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits—we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole‑hearted and total allegiance to this “risen Christ .” Religious fanatics, of diverse religions, have whole-heartedly and with total allegiance followed their belief to the grave and to martyrdom. Religious fervor is NOT proof of the veracity of the belief.
As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking.
Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message. The same can be said of the martyrs of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Mormonism. It proves nothing. The real question about the disciples of Jesus is this: Do we have any evidence that even one of the Eleven was given the opportunity to save his life by denying seeing and touching a resurrected Jesus?
To date, I have never found or heard of any such evidence. The martyrdom of the Eleven is based on tradition only.
WHERE DO YOU STAND?
How do you evaluate this overwhelming historical evidence? What is your decision about the fact of Christ’s empty tomb? What do you think of Christ? I think he was a first century apocalyptic Jewish prophet who taught some really wonderful humanistic principles of how to treat one another, but, he was delusional about being the messiah, and, the remains of his bones are somewhere in the sands of Palestine today.
When I was confronted with the overwhelming evidence for Christ’s resurrection, I had to ask the logical question: “What difference does all this evidence make to me? What difference does it make whether or not I believe Christ rose again and died on the cross for my sins!’ The answer is put best by something Jesus said to a man who doubted—Thomas. Jesus told him: John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
On the basis of all the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, and considering the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is alive! He is living today. No. The only evidence presented here are assumptions, hearsay, and expert (Christian) opinion, all forms of “soft evidence”. There is zero hard, or even moderately strong, evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Should I hedge my bets and believe anyway in case I am wrong?
But what if the Muslims are right? If so, I will be punished in the Muslim hell. And the same is true for every other exclusivist religion in the world. It is impossible to hedge your bets as Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc are exclusivist belief systems! If I am a good Christian, I cannot also be a good Muslim.
So what should I do?
I say, let’s look at what is probable, not just what is possible. Is it possible that the Christian god, the Muslim god, the Mormon god, the Hindu gods, exist, and, that their belief systems are true? Answer: Yes!
But, in a world in which every supernatural claim is possible, the following could also exist: one-eyed Cyclops, leprechauns, fairies, flying witches, unicorns, goblins, the Boogeyman, zombies, Zeus, Jupiter, etc. etc.. I choose not to believe in any supernatural entity until there is good evidence to do so. And so far, I have seen none.