Recently, I posted a question on Quora, “The writers of the Gospels claim Jesus rose from the dead. What reasons do you have for rejecting this claim?” It generated ten answers that ranged from the well thought out, to dismissive, and one “I don’t.”
Why would I focus on this question? Someone once asked, “What would make you give up your faith?” That is a difficult question to answer. Some people have given up their faith after experiencing severe trauma, or persecution. For all I know, not having experienced either, I might too. However, I think it is the wrong question. A better question would be “What would have to happen to make you realize you should give up your faith.” Faith is only as good as its object. My faith is in Jesus, and one of the main reasons I think that faith is well grounded is the resurrection. Show me it didn’t happen, and it’s “game over.” As the Apostle Paul says,
“… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1Corinthians 15:17-19)
So what kind of answers did I get? A couple of responses mentioned “extraordinary claims/evidence.” This is a reference to a popular saying among skeptics that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I’m going to call this what it is: a cop out. By saying this, you reserve for yourself the right to not only move the goalpost but hide it altogether. Then no matter what evidence is offered, you simply claim it isn’t extraordinary, or not extraordinary enough. Evidence is evidence, and the question to be answered is, what is the best explanation for the evidence in question.
One response noted that (as Biblical scholars would agree) the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8. He also notes (with probably a majority of scholars) that Mark was the first of the Gospels to be written. He infers from this that all other biblical writers only had Mark for a source, and since Mark doesn’t record any of the post-mortem appearances, then the other writers must have made them up. Related to this was one respondent’s claim that the Gospels were written by “unknow authors who never even met Jesus.” If we don’t know who the authors were, how does he know they never met Jesus? As a matter of fact, our earliest sources of the authorship affirm the names ascribed to them. To quote another popular skeptical trope, “that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without argument.”
Speaking of assertions without evidence, here is one response in its entirety:
- no eyewitness accounts of anyone going to the authorities in Jerusalem to let them know.
- The Jews till this day as well as myself know it makes no sense at all for a resurrection.
- If Jesus rose from the dead…. then why did all of the disciples hide prior to his resurrection? Didn’t he say he was coming back?
- All four of the gospels contradict themselves so much on the topic of the story that it is impossible to believe. Such goes the story of Lazarus, another myth.
I will address these one by one. Number 1 obviously dismisses the Gospel of Matthew. In Chapter 28, we read,
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (vv 11-15)
If this responder had evidence that this account was false, he doesn’t offer it.
In 2 he really doesn’t claim anything except incredulity. When he says he “knows a resurrection makes no sense” he offers no reasons or arguments. If it was just some random person allegedly rising from the dead, he might have a point, but there was a context to the resurrection that makes sense of it.
3. While he clearly thinks the fear and confusion of the disciples weighs against the likelihood of the resurrection, it actually adds credibility. This is called the principle of embarrassment. When someone reports something in such a way that it paints them in a bad light, it is evidence that they are not lying. The Gospel writers admit they didn’t get it when Jesus told them he would rise again.
In 4, there are no examples given of the alleged contradictions between the resurrection accounts. There are certainly differences between accounts, as one would expect when there are different people telling the story from different perspectives, in order for them to be contradictory, they could not be true at the same time in the same sense.
One responder noted that decades had passed between the events and the writing of the Gospels. So, what? I sometimes think that the people who raise this think the process happened something like this: Jesus dies/disappears/goes away, or whatever, and the disciples go back to fishing, tax collecting, etc. Fifty years later some of them start thinking, “Gee, my retirement portfolio isn’t doing to well. Maybe I can score a book deal.” And then they start writing. However, we have evidence that the central event of the history of mankind, the resurrection of Jesus, was a well-established belief very early on. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul writes,
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
N.T. Wright notes that verses 3-5 were part of a creed that probably dates to one or two years after the crucifixion. Moreover, 1 Corinthians itself was written in 53 or 54 AD, just twenty years after the events.
In addition to this, these were not some ordinary events. It was a unique event with enormous ramifications. These men had walked with Jesus (except for Paul) for three years. They lived in an oral culture that did not simply tell stories around the camp fire. The recited history, learned in community, and that community held them accountable to retell it accurately. They went all over the known world telling the story of what happened and what it meant. They did so repeatedly, and under “peer review” by others who had been there. Hence, these events were not the result of the musings of old fisherman decades after the fact.
Finally, one responder said “People don’t rise from the dead.”
Wow. Case closed. Good-bye, church. I’m out.
Wait… People don’t rise from the dead; therefore, Jesus didn’t rise? (I can hear Donnall and Connall in my head saying “except for that time Jesus rose from the dead. That was awesome!) Do you really think this is a reasonable objection? Think it through for a minute. Suppose people did rise from the dead. Now someone comes along and says “Jesus has risen.” Yeah, so, what? So did my uncle Charlie. We had to give him back our inheritance. Do you see how silly that is? It is the very miraculous nature of the claim that makes it (if it happened) proof of Jesus’ credibility.