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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Defending the Resurrection

Various Scriptures

Lesson audio

The Incarnation is the supreme miracle of Christianity; without it, no such religion can exist. But the miracle that is most commonly challenged as a threat to rational thought is the Resurrection. We may summarize the objections thusly:

flow diagram

We shall take each theory in turn, and see its logical results.

Swoon Theory

The swoon theory holds that Jesus, innocently, did not die on the cross but awakened some time later, left the tomb – and that the disciples mistook this for a true resurrection. This theory has its objections:

At the crucifixion

First, consider the history of the crucifixion itself:

  • Christ foretold his resurrection – as the Pharisees clearly understood. How did he know he was going to survive the Crucifixion? More realistically, perhaps: why did he ever volunteer to do it?
  • The spear in his side produced blood and water[1] – a sure sign of death by asphyxiation, caused by pneumonia. (This was the most common cause of death in crucifixion.) This was the major reason that the Journal of the American Medical Association rejected this theory.[2]
  • The Romans didn’t break his legs – something done to hasten death. These people knew what they were doing. The only reason for this is that he was already dead.
  • The Roman soldier clearly understood that if the crucified didn’t die from it, he would soon take his place. This is motivation to do the job right the first time.
Getting out of the tomb

There are some difficulties, too, in getting out of the tomb.

  • First, how did the weakened, tortured Jesus roll the stone away – a stone which took several men to put in place? Which covered the entrance – no edge to grab?
  • More to the point, how did such a beaten, weakened man even get out of the winding sheet wrapped around him like a cocoon? That’s not easy for a fully healthy man, let alone one in this condition.
  • Having performed these feats, how did he get past the guards? They didn’t notice the stone moving?
After the event

Now that (somehow) he’s out of the tomb, past the guards and on his way to his disciples, answer these questions:

  • Why did no one notice that he was in such a weakened condition? There is no thought of bandaging up his wounds, or treating him.
  • Where, for heaven’s sake, did he go? By this theory he is mortal like us, and stays for forty days – and then disappears. Where did he go? Why do we hear no more of him?

The usual result of asking these questions is that “there must have been a conspiracy.” We will deal with that in due course.

The Hallucination theory

This story holds that the disciples, distraught by events, hallucinated the resurrection. This has its difficulties too.

Problems with hallucinations themselves

Hallucinations have been studied medically, and such observations pose a serious problem for this theory:

  • They usually last, at most, a few minutes. This one went on for forty days.
  • They usually happen only once, unless you are indeed afflicted with a particular type of mental illness. This one happened over and over to a lot of people.
  • Hallucinations usually are the result of our own inner processes. One thing is clear: the disciples thought the resurrection unimaginable. How, then, did they hallucinate it?
  • Hallucinations don’t eat real fish. Jesus did.[3]
  • Hallucinations don’t provide rational teaching like Jesus did.
Witnesses
  • There were many witnesses with the same hallucination. How?
  • These people were not New Age thinkers with something to smoke, but ordinary peasants of the time.
  • Five hundred identical hallucinations at once?
  • Perhaps most telling, the witnesses at each incident started by showing that they did not believe in the resurrection, but had to be convinced. That’s a hallucination within a hallucination.
The corpse

By this theory the corpse is still in the tomb – which yields some potent objections:

  • The stone and seal would still be there. Who would believe these people?
  • The disciples would certainly have known that something funny happened, and would have verified what they thought they saw. Where? At the tomb – still sealed with the stone. In fact, this is just what the Apostles did.
  • As the story spread, the Jews had every reason to stop it. They could have done so simply by producing the body. They didn’t.

The Myth theory

This one is relatively recent. It runs something like this: We know that the Gospels weren’t written until very late – 200 AD at the earliest, more likely 300-350 AD. The Apostles, in this version, were myth makers. The embellished the story of the real Christ until it became that of the Christ of classic Christianity. The church later added to this mythology. Thus, we can never really know the “historical Jesus.” This is also called the “two layer theory” – the first layer being the historical (and unknowable) Jesus, the second the mythical one of Christianity. This is a favorite of liberals who believe in having faith in faith (often called “Easter faith.”) It certainly allows you to make any number of speculations which your fellow liberals will call “brilliant.” But the theory has its problems:

Evidence of the Scripture
  • First, we know how myths were written in those days – even Christian myths. Such myths are easily identified by style, and were consistently rejected by the early church.
  • Next, there is the date of Paul’s writing. You can jabber all you want about the date of the Gospels (there is good evidence for first century dates), but virtually no scholar denies that Paul’s letters were written before AD 65 – the year he was fed to the lions. Paul’s letters as a whole completely reject any form of myth, and solidly affirm the resurrection.
  • This may seem a curious argument today, but bear with me. The first witnesses to the resurrection are women. If you’re going to create a myth, start with people who are more credible. The ancient world would not have accepted such a myth based on a woman’s account.
  • Peter specifically denies that the Apostles are myth makers.[4]
Other documentary evidence

We may bring forward two more items of evidence:

  • There is absolutely no documentary evidence from the first through third centuries of any such myth making going on successfully. The manuscripts have very little variation in them. On the contrary, attempted myth making was consistently rejected.
  • Mythology of all types was consistently rejected by the early church. For example, Chrysostom, who commented on most of the books of the New Testament, shows that his understanding in the late 4th century is virtually identical to the manuscripts from the early 2nd century. His quotations from Scripture are such that individual word discrepancies can be identified, and these are few. There are no 3rd or 4th century myths in his writing.

The Conspiracy theory

All the theories above assume that the Apostles acted in innocence. They were deceived by Jesus’ recovery in the tomb; they were hallucinating; they were making myths just to make things better. But there is a more sinister version. The Apostles, in this theory, conspired to invent Christianity knowing full well that it was false. This is a very popular theory today, but it too has its problems.

The Apostles

The first set of objections has to do with the Apostles themselves.

  • Despite severe torture and death, not one of the early disciples or Apostles ever confessed to conspiracy. The authorities of that time did not hesitate to use torture to get results. Despite that, there are no confessions of conspiracy – only faith. Do people act like that for something they know is a lie?
  • These guys? A bunch of hick fishermen from Galilee? A conspiracy? These guys couldn’t conspire their way out of a paper bag. How did they ever keep their stories straight?
  • What possible motive could they have had? Sentiment for a dead Jesus? That won’t last long. Money? Sure – if you can explain how they intended to profit from it. Pure masochism comes to mind – if you can explain how masochism benefits from conspiracy.
  • Finally, what an imagination these fishermen had! This is a story that exceeds Tolkien or Shakespeare at their finest. How did they even dream this one up?
Conspiracy problems

Conspiracies, by their very nature, have intrinsic limits and problems. Here are some questions concerning those:

  • Five hundred plus conspirators? How many people did it take to leak Watergate to the press? Can so large a conspiracy go undetected for so many years? It is absurd.
  • If you’re going to lie about something, wouldn’t you make it an attractive lie? This is a lie that produces persecution for its adherents. Surely they could have been smarter than that.
  • The Jews and the Romans had every facility for breaking such a conspiracy – and plenty of motive to do so. They tried. They failed. Conspiracies usually break down under such pressure.
Other holes in the theory

There are two other gaping holes in this theory.

  • First, how did they get the body out of the tomb? Guards, huge stone, seal – all these had to be passed and then made to look as if the resurrection had occurred. How did they do that? Especially, how did they get the guards to cooperate – when cooperating would get the guards crucified?
  • Second, if they didn’t do that, why didn’t the Jews simply produce the corpse?

Christianity

The last option, of course, is Christianity. If this is not the right one, then what we know as the church today sprang from fraud, hallucination, mythology or worse. How is it that such good things as Christians do come from such an evil source?

The truth is simple: the opponents of Christ do what they accuse Christians of doing: ignoring the evidence, starting with the conclusion and working backwards to a theory. Try it the other way around, folks, and see where it leads.


[1] John 19:34

[2] Edwards, William D.; Wesley J. Gabel; and Floyd E. Hosmer. "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ." Journal of the American Medical Association, 255 (1986):1455-63.

[3] John 21:12-13

[4] 2nd Peter 1:16

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