The Resurrection

Published by DonDavidson on

April 4th is Resurrection Sunday—also known as Easter—the day Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from death to life. But did that really happen? (The following discussion is condensed from chapter two of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, which provides much more detail than is possible in a relatively brief blog entry.)

Let’s begin by laying down a few well proven facts of history:

A. Jesus lived. In other words, he was a real, historical person.

B. Jesus was crucified by the Romans and was believed dead.

C. His body was buried in a known tomb, which was discovered to be empty a few days later.

D. His followers claimed that he had been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.

In addition to the writings of the New Testament, these facts are well established from both Christian and secular sources from the second and third centuries. As for the books of the New Testament, history demonstrates that most or all of those books are reliable sources in the sense that they were written by people who knew Jesus, or by their close associates, within the lifetimes of many of the people who knew Jesus, and we have highly accurate versions of what the authors actually wrote.

So with that said, how can we explain the known facts? Various explanations have been offered, but they all boil down to two—either Jesus’ followers lied, or they told the truth. Let’s look at the possibilities:

            1.         The disciples stole the body.

            2.         They went to the wrong tomb. Finding it empty, they concluded Jesus must have risen from the dead.

            3.         The Jews or the Romans moved the body, perhaps to keep it from being stolen.

            4.         Joseph of Arimathea moved the body.

These theories only explain the empty tomb. Under any of these theories, the disciples couldn’t have really seen Jesus alive, so the resurrection stories must be a lie.

            5.         Jesus didn’t die on the cross (the “swoon” theory), and then revived in the tomb. It’s extremely unlikely that the Romans could have been fooled like that. And anyway, this doesn’t adequately explain the resurrection stories—Jesus walking seven miles to Emmaus; walking in and around Jerusalem; walking to Bethany and to Galilee—which present Jesus as vibrant and healthy, not seriously injured and in need of convalescence. And it doesn’t explain the ascension.

            6.         The disciples hallucinated. But hallucinations don’t work that way. Hallucinations don’t just happen—they are almost always the result of drug use, mental or physical illness, or extreme fatigue or emotional instability. Hallucinations don’t eat; you can’t touch a hallucination; they rarely involve more than one of the five senses; and most important, they appear to individuals, not to groups. Yet Jesus appeared to groups as well as individuals; he ate; the disciples could touch him and carry on a conversation with him. The resurrection stories are inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations. So if Jesus’ resurrection was just a hallucination, then Jesus’ disciples made up a lot of stories. In other words, they lied.

There are many reasons to believe the disciples did not lie, as I discuss in detail in chapter two of Beyond Blind Faith. Briefly:

            1.         The New Testament writings display a high regard for truth. The writers include many details mere liars wouldn’t, such as Peter’s denials, the apostles’ obtuseness, their abandonment of Jesus when he was arrested, Jesus’ references to himself as the “Son of Man,” the gap of seven weeks between the crucifixion and Pentecost when the resurrection was first publicly proclaimed, and women discovering the empty tomb (women were considered less credible in those days).

            2.         The New Testament writings contain many examples of stories in one book that explain what is otherwise obscure in another book. For example, in Acts Paul and Barnabas break up their partnership over a dispute about whether to take Mark on the 2nd Missionary Journey. Why? We find the likely explanation in Colossians 4:10—Mark was Barnabas’ cousin.

            3.         Archeology and secular history have confirmed the accuracy of many details in the New Testament writings—especially Acts.

            4.         Most important, Jesus’ followers put their lives on the line for this resurrection story. They traveled extensively. They suffered persecution. None amassed wealth, power, or anything else the world considers valuable. Many died a martyr’s death—at a minimum, Stephen, James the Greater, Peter, Paul, Thomas, Philip, Mark, Andrew, Bartholomew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, and Matthias. How much would you be willing to suffer for a lie?

If the disciples lied:

            A.        They were the best liars in history, because they convinced thousands of people that this story was true—despite it being contrary to everyday experience, and despite telling this story in Jerusalem right under the noses of the Jewish leaders who had the most to gain by discrediting the story.

            B.        They were the worst liars in history, because they appear to have gained nothing the world considers valuable, while leading thousands into needless persecution and death. In other words, if they lied, they were both stupid and wicked.

            C.        They were the biggest hypocrites in history, for they told this colossal lie while advocating honesty, truthfulness, and righteousness—and while insisting that they were sincerely telling the truth.

I will end with this quote from Beyond Blind Faith, Chapter Two: “Anyone who claims that Jesus’s resurrection was a fairy tale must satisfactorily answer two questions: How were Jesus’s followers able to fool so many people into believing this fantastic story? And why did they bother? It may be hard to believe that Christ’s resurrection really happened, but after you have looked at the evidence it is even harder to believe that it didn’t.”

You can read a description of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, here, and you can find a list of contents and chapter excerpts here. The book is available on, in both print book and e-book formats.


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