Defending the Resurrection: Part 2- Defending the Resurrection

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Very often discussions about the truthfulness of Christianity center around proof for the existence of God or questions regarding the moral teachings. However important these topics may be, the most important component of Christianity is Jesus. Jesus is the man that makes Christianity different. In addition, He is the lynch-pin of the faith. If one desires to knock down the existence of God amongst Christians and destroy the very foundation of the faith, they need only pull this pin. Further, they need not even tear down Jesus entirely. Rather, one must merely disprove the resurrection. Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, all belief is in vain. The main reason for this is that all of the most important beliefs regarding Christianity center around the reserection.

Often, the argument that happens between atheists and believers revolves around the scientifically possible or provable. However, this is problematic because Christianity doesn’t revolve around scientifically verifiable facts. Rather, it revolves around historic events. This makes the argument subject to historically verifiable events. This makes the argument between believers and the skeptics look something like this: (please note this is an example that removes the religious element because it creates clarity)

Historian: The battle of Gettysburg took place between July 1 and July 3 in 1863. Robert E. Lee commanded the confederates, while George Meade commanded the union. Roughly 46,000 men were killed or wounded. It marked the beginning of the end of the confederacy.

Scientist: that’s an incredible story, but certainly you cannot prove this scientifically! You cannot measure anything that demonstrates that this took place, and that which was measured is not reproducible. 46,000 men killed in battle! That is simply hard to believe.

Historian: I have newspaper clippings, bullets, journal entries, and years of belief amongst Americans!

Scientist: Measure something and prove it to me! All of those things can be manufactured after the fact! Show me something measurable and repeatable!

Now, obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point remains true. The story of the resurrection is the hinge point for the truthfulness of the claims of the scriptures. It is also a point of historic evidence, not scientific measurement. This points to the logical question: what historic evidence exists? The gospel accounts are the biggest and best evidence that points to the resurrection of Christ. They stand on their own strength as four different eyewitness accounts. In addition, we have at least 4 other New Testament authors that defend the resurrection as eyewitnesses. For the purpose of this essay, we will look primarily at the opposing positions. The next essay will deal with the pro-resurrection arguments/evidence, but most of the pro-resurrection proofs are best illuminated as responses to the anti-resurrection arguments. So, for now let’s begin by looking at the common arguments against the resurrection as they have appeared throughout history.

  1. Stolen Body: This is the first argument against the resurrection that was made by the temple leadership that arrested and crucified Christ. The long and short of the argument is that the disciples came to the tomb and stole the body. They then went out and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised. This explanation offers us an important bit of information: the body of Christ was gone. Otherwise, the temple officials would have simply produced it. It’s tough to say that Jesus was alive when the corpse is lying in the room. The veracity of the stolen body claim is questionable, at best. The texts tell us that a squad of Roman soldiers was left to guard the tomb and that the imperial seal was placed on the stone blocking the entrance. The penalty for breaking such a seal was death and guards were present to follow through with the sentence. These were not just any guards; they were Roman soldiers, the most elite soldiers in the world. For the body of Jesus to have been stolen, it would require that the disciples attack the soldiers, beat them and then steal the body. Further, they would need to do this without killing anyone or being killed themselves. Since we have record of the fates of most of the twelve and none of them were killed during the time of the crucifixion/resurrection, this seems unlikely. Further, there was no prosecution of rebels who dared attack the guards, much less kill any of them. The elite ninjas that pulled this off were the same disciples that ran away rather than stand with Jesus in the garden. One of the disciples even pulled out of his clothes when he was grabbed, opting instead to run off naked rather than fight. You know you aren’t tough when bullies take your clothes entirely. The argument is that these same fishermen, tax collectors and other assorted men that ran away days before, later defeated elite soldiers in order to collect a dead body. They would have done this, knowing it was a death penalty offense. It seems dubious. The temple officials accounted for the unlikely skirmish by alleging that the guards were asleep. Here again, we find problems. Sleeping on guard duty was a death penalty offense, giving them real incentive to stay awake. Further, this was not one soldier, it was a squad of soldiers. A squad typically consisted of 8 men. An elite squad of soldiers, all sleeping, while the disciples snuck by, rolled a boulder away (without waking someone up) and stole the body. Really? Again, this seems dubious. So, what if all of these things happened? Well, the disciples would then need to concoct a whopper of a story and convince 500 other witnesses to go along with it. (Paul refers to 500 witnesses of the resurrection.) Even if that were the case, they would need to stand by that lie. Despite torture, persecution and living in constant danger, they would need to stand by it. There are lots of reasons people lie: to get out of trouble, to profit from manipulation or simply for the sake of being dishonest. None of those reasons make sense when the liars are being tortured. Why would you maintain a lie under torture or even the threat of death? Of the 11 disciples that remained after Judas’ death, 10 were killed swearing they saw what they saw. The 11th died in prison still swearing to it. Many have argued that lots of people die for their faith. Simple willingness to die doesn’t prove anything. The major difference here is willingness to die for faith, verses willingness to die for claiming to have witnessed an event. These guys were not just claiming to believe something they were told; they were claiming to have seen something. Why on earth would anyone die or be tortured for a lie? If the disciples stole the body, they would need to lie about it, but they gain nothing for it. Even if 11 guys could be sold on this course of action, they weren’t alone in it. Paul, when pointing to proof of the resurrection in one of his letters, urged the readers to ask their neighbors because 500 witnesses saw the risen Christ. That’s a large crowd for a conspiracy or a con game. The stolen body theory simply doesn’t fit the available evidence.
  2. The substitute: The Koran is the origin of this argument, that Christ did not even go to the cross, but instead a substitute was sent in His place unbeknownst to the disciples. Fist things first, this was revealed to Mohammed through his claimed revelation from Allah. It is not based on any historic evidence. Second, reading the narrative of the trial and crucifixion points to the unlikelihood of this being the case. Judas, who knew Jesus, sells out Christ. Judas later kills himself in remorse, which points to the idea that it is unlikely that he would identify the wrong guy. His trial was run by the temple authorities, who had watched him teach and knew who he was. They also stood and watched the crucifixion, along with John the beloved disciple and Mary (Jesus’ mom!). You have an awesome look-alike when your own mom doesn’t recognize you. Further, why wouldn’t a substitute make it clear that he wasn’t Jesus?! There is no record of the guy on the cross saying: “Hey! You got the wrong guy! I am Rufus, I’m not Jesus!” Ultimately, this theory lacks detail because the Koran is vague. I suggest detail would do nothing but further expose the spuriousness of the theory.
  3. The swoon theory: This theory argues that if Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen and lots of people saw him, perhaps he didn’t die on the cross, but rather passed out only to wake up later and leave the tomb under his own power. This would account for confusion on the part of the disciples and their willingness to stand by their story. This theory sounds reasonable until we compare it with the details of the death and burial. Christ had been severely tortured before the crucifixion, which included scourging. Scourging was a bad enough punishment that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be scourged beyond 39 times, because it would usually result in the death of the victim as a result of their flesh being so torn that their organs simply falling out. Scourging was followed by crucifixion. Nails were pounded through the victim’s hands or wrists and their feet or ankles. They were then suspended from a cross until dead. This sometimes lasted days. In Christ’s case, it was a mere 6 hours as a result of the severity of the treatment he had received before the crucifixion. After he died, the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, resulting in water and blood pouring out. Several things could cause this, but one of the more popular theories involves the piercing of the pericardial sack and heart (i.e. the heart and the bag it comes in). It seems reasonable that a trained Roman soldier would know the most efficient way to kill a guy with a spear. The heart really works when you happen to be in a hurry to kill someone. Jesus then was buried in a stone tomb with a boulder blocking the entrance. He was pretty severely injured. If he had passed out and revived, its unlikely that he would be able to muscle the boulder from the entrance to the tomb. Even if he did, the nasty surprise that would meet him outside would certainly have ended his escape: a squad of elite Roman soldiers. In his injured state, he would not have been capable of escape. For arguments sake, if he had escaped and appeared to the disciples a day or so later, they would be stretched to argue that he had come back from the dead, for he would have been in pretty bad shape. Then, he would need to exit the scene and the disciples would have been in the same boat of lying regarding his ascension into heaven. The theory simply doesn’t fit the facts.
  4. The poison theory: This is a variation of the swoon theory. It involves Christ receiving a poison during the crucifixion that would result in him appearing dead. The soldiers, it is argued, would have administered the poison when they gave him vinegar to drink during the crucifixion. The problem here is that the guys who were killing him would then be complicit with faking his death. Why would they fake his death, then run him through with a spear an hour later. Further, when he awoke from his deathlike state, he would need to escape the tomb. See the previous point for the major issue with this scenario.
  5. The wrong tomb theory: One of the more recent theories regarding the resurrection, which claims to account for the empty tomb is that the disciples were so grieved at the loss of their master that they went to the wrong tomb and hysterically assumed he was alive. The story exploded from there and a religion was born. Here is the problem with this one: Opponents to the new teaching could have gone to the right tomb, produced the body and ended the discussion. Then there is the issue of the multitude of witnesses. They were witnesses to the resurrection, not the empty tomb.
  6. The impostor theory: I will start by saying that this one is silly, but in the name of fairness, it is worth covering. The theory goes that someone disguised himself as Jesus in order to trick the disciples in the grandest practical joke ever. I can’t say this out loud without smiling. So, first things first, this doesn’t account for the empty tomb and there is no evidence supporting it. The temple officials could have produced the body of Christ at any time and demonstrated the invalidity of the resurrection. Beyond that, Jesus had lived/traveled with the disciples for 3 years before the crucifixion. The imposter Jesus would need to be pretty versed to pull this off. It would be tough for someone to convince me that they were my wife, even if they looked like her because I have lived with her. If they didn’t know to tease me about my mustache or bring me biscuits and eggs in bed on Saturday mornings, it would be a tip off that something was wrong. Some of the arguments purporting this position included the idea that Mary didn’t immediately recognize Christ, but rather thought he was the gardener and that the 2 guys on the road to Emmaeus didn’t recognize him either. As for Mary, she was likely weeping and the text clearly indicates that she turned and recognized him. So crying and looking away impaired her immediate awareness to identify Him. As for the two on the road to Emmaeus, The text indicates that they were kept from knowing who he was until he was done teaching to them. One could argue that this is a simple supernatural explanation for the event, but the whole conversation is about the resurrection. Certainly a supernatural explanation is warranted. The rest of the 11 saw and identified Jesus without hesitation, even Thomas who openly challenged the claims.
  7. The hallucination theory: “Everyone who saw Jesus alive was hallucinating” is the general idea behind this theory. The big problem with this is that hallucinations are always private. There is no such thing as group hallucinations. They simply do not happen. In addition, the 500 or so people who all saw him would need to be hallucinating in unison. Further, the body was still gone.
  8. It never happened: I will deal with this one more thoroughly in a later essay on this subject. I will, however, touch on it briefly for the sake of completeness in this essay. For a far more thorough exploration of the theory, please stay tuned. The early church originated in Jerusalem and grew outward from there. The disciples did not start the church in Greece and take advantage of the ignorance of the people. They started it in the place where everything took place. If the crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred at all, or even if they had made up Jesus entirely, this would mean that the disciples went to the people of Jerusalem and told them they saw something they didn’t see. It would be a crazy plan and would have been completely shut down before even getting out of the gates. I cannot convince anyone that they met someone last week, listened to him teach in a crowd of thousands and watched him be tortured to death if they didn’t actually see it.
  9. Some brief points in favor of the historicity of the resurrection: (all of these will be addressed in more detail in the next essay)
  • The disciples: These guys make for a pretty compelling point on the issue. They lived poor, lost family, were tortured and killed swearing they saw the risen Lord. Their actions are not the actions of men who were making up a story because they got nothing in this world for their efforts. They did not get rich, they did not attract popularity, it got them into trouble (not out of it), and it ultimately got them killed.
  • Multiple accounts: This one will be examined more in depth later as well, but it’s worth touching for this discussion. Unlike every other world religion, the resurrection is accounted for directly by multiple witnesses in writing. We do not have a book. We have 4 direct accounts, and at least 4 other writers who attest to the historicity the resurrection.
  • The large group of witnesses to the risen Lord: Paul directs his readers to ask the witnesses themselves. This is a crummy strategy if there were none.
  • The stolen body theory is the only one from the era of the early church: The only contra-resurrection theory that was found in the ancient era is that the body was stolen. Every other offering is a product of guesses based on suppositions precarious balanced on anti-supernatural bias. Even then, the Bible accounts for the stolen body theory in Matthew, who refers to a bribe that was given to the soldiers to lie about what happened. As we examined earlier, the “sleeping soldiers/stolen body claim” is problematic on a number of accounts, whereas the bribe does fit the facts we have regarding the event.
  • The Apostle Paul: Paul was a persecutor of Christians. We know from Acts and Paul’s own account that he was involved in the persecution and execution of early believers. We also know that Paul went against his teaching rabbi in persecuting Christians. This is no small thing. Paul then is turned around and not only becomes a Christian, but becomes one of the strongest advocates of the faith. This is roughly akin to Hitler becoming a rabbi and leading the remnant of the Jews back to Israel. All of this is based on an encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The crumminess of the story: The story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is a powerful one in our day and age. However, to an ancient Jew crucifixion is unbelievably offensive. The Old Testament associates crucifixion with being accursed of God. Saul was killed in a similar manner. Jews were deeply offended by the practice. Further, most Jews were looking for God to send a messiah in the vein of Judas Maccabeus, who kicked the butts of the Persians and chased them out of the promised land. They wanted a conqueror. Even further still, the incarnation is a deeply offensive concept to the Jews of that time and an absurd concept to anyone who was a student of Plato or Aristotle. If the disciples concocted this story in an effort to make a fortune, they were dumb. This story stands as the opposite of what would be an effective con at the time. Its just downright offensive to the cultures of the time.

Summary: The major arguments against the resurrection are fanciful guesses that do not stand up to the slightest degree of examination. In fact, most of these arguments are so weak that they highlight the strength of the argument for the resurrection. The next essay will look at the evidence in favor of the resurrection as a total, cohesive argument.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 1- Responding to the church of the flying spaghetti monster

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First things first: Yes, there is a church of the flying spaghetti monster. It sprouted up as a response to a comment by new atheist author/speaker Richard Dawkins. The idea took root, not as a religion, so much as a sarcastic stab at the idea of believing in God. Thus the church of the flying spaghetti monster came to life. The church itself is a joke. It is not something that really needs to be dealt with. What ought to be addressed, and what I aim to address the in the following series of essays is the amazing degree of willfully blind ignorance and arrogance with which the privileged intellectual elitist new atheist movement dismisses any notion of God. This arrogance/ignorance have trickled down through classrooms and the media to the a growing segment of the general population that rejects truth in Christianity based on spurious arguments and fallacious reasoning. Rather than discuss ideas and honestly debate, the growing tendency is to resort to mockery, sarcasm and attack. Which is pretty amazing because mockery and sarcasm represent the weakest approaches in argumentation. I would argue that this is because the intellectual engine that drives this form of skepticism is more accustomed to arguing with straw men and ill-equipped believers. All too often, arguments aiming to refute the existence of God or any sort of creator are easily summed up in the following way: “there is no proof and everyone who dares suggest there is any proof is stupid to the point that we shouldn’t even discuss what they are saying.” This is usually followed by plugging fingers in the ears and yelling: “You are stupid! I am not listening to you!” when retort is offered up. The weird irony that cannot be missed by any objective observer is the excessive quantity of scholarship and intellectual pursuit that has gone into Christianity over the millennia, or that modern science is a product of Judeo-Christian assumptions regarding the world. All too often Christianity is caricatured as intellectually inferior and a crutch for the ignorant. Such caricatures are usually dripping with contempt and venom that render objective intelligent discussion impossible.

In the following series of essays I will address some of the basic proofs that support the claims of Christianity and I will speak to some of the more wrongheaded attacks raised against the faith. Very little of this will be original material. It doesn’t have to be. I will stand on the shoulders of centuries of brilliant men who have made these arguments before me. The first 5 or so of these essays will focus on the historical claims of Christianity, claims that are frequently attacked from a place of total and startling ignorance. The major objective isn’t for people to read this and realize the error of their ways or to offer a definitive defense of the faith. The goal is to equip the reader to answer some of the tougher questions leveled against Christianity. This ought to be fun. Please feel free to email me about these essays.

Skipping Out on Milk and Cookies Christianity

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I first began attending church when I was 15 at a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Montgomery Alabama. One of the staples of the weekly service was the recitation of the creeds. This always took place right before the sermon. I now understand that this took place so that the listener could compare the beliefs of historic Christianity with the message being presented. It kept everything Kosher, so to speak. As a new believer, I found this comforting. I liked hearing the totality of the beliefs of the church summarized succinctly. In addition, I read the creeds and looked up the ideas in the scriptures. The product of this was: I knew what the Christian faith was about and I knew why I believed it. Over time the repetition from week to week began to wear out the joy of hearing the creeds. Eventually, we moved to a new town and the family settled into a Reformed Church, which has less repetition. When I went to college, the creeds disappeared from my worship experience entirely, though I can still recite them from memory.

The last few Sundays, I have listened to a series of sermons on the basic ideas of the Christian faith. These messages have reminded me of how powerful and comforting those creeds are. Last week, Denver preached on the Trinity. I will admit that it has been over a decade since I have heard a sermon on the Trinity. I have read about it in classes for seminary and as a part of various books. It was terrific. In a day and age of movie themed and self-help sermons, the appearance of a message on the foundations of the faith was a welcome change of pace. What made it particularly powerful was that the topic of the Trinity parlayed into a call for repentance in Christ. An altar call in a sermon on the Trinity… awesome! Having mulled over the whole thing at length, I think I figured out why it struck me as being so terrific.

Standard therapy/entertainment sermons found in churches across the country aren’t about God. They are all about the listener. More time is spent dealing with the listeners thoughts, feelings, needs and wants than is spent talking about Jesus. Relevance has turned the weekly service into a sad variation of the worship song: “it’s all about me, it’s all about me… the listener.” This relevance is a necessity because there is no real focus on God. People come in and have little or no relationship or connection as the Body of Christ and very little connection to God and only stay as long as they feel comfortable. They need to be entertained, because they are not growing members of the Body of Christ, instead they are merely spectators or infants who need something shiny to look at. There is no need to mature in the Body because maturing would require they not indulge in the lowest common denominator of spirituality, which seems to be self-indulgence. They need milk… or Kool-Aid, lest they accidently nourish themselves spiritually and treat anything other than themselves and their own comfort as God. The easy listening sermon is a powerful tool in building large churches, and by large churches I mean gatherings thousands of attendees wide and very very shallow. I am being a bit harsh and am painting with a broad brush. I do not wish to convey a total condemnation of all efforts toward relevance in preaching. However, when relevance crosses from speaking the language of the congregation to making the service completely about the listener, there is a problem. That is not accessibility, it is consumerism disguised as Christianity.

This is highlighted in the Trinity in particular. Augustine points out that the Trinity is essentially the note of doctrine that describes God’s relationship with Himself. It isn’t about us. Certain elements of our lives may reflect the Trinitarian relationship, but merely because they are designed to do so. The important part of the Trinity sermon is God. The important part of worship ought to be God. This is perhaps why the call to repent and follow Christ stood out to me as being particularly powerful in this sermon. It was about committing to follow Christ, not buying a bill of goods. In our day and age, following Christ is packaged as a way to have secure finances or better self-esteem or a more fulfilling sex life. The problem is that the real call to follow Christ is about receiving forgiveness and becoming a follower of the way. The way may have side effects, but they are side effects. The primary effect is salvation. The Trinity puts on display the various aspects of God and highlights how awesome He is. Creator, comforter, redeemer, etc. are all parts of the picture of God provided in the Trinity. These are the things that ought to attract us when we commit to following Christ. Further, they are the meat and potatoes that every growing believer needs.

Interestingly, for all the time, effort and energy spent by evangelicals and conservatives speaking out against questionable cultural trends and liberalism in the church and books about whether or not hell exists, all in the name of protecting the flock from being mislead from the Biblical message of Christianity, simply teaching the flock to recognize basic truths about God would do wonders to ensure that such things do not occur.

By the way, it was a great sermon.