* This article aims to answer those who assert that Christ’s Resurrection has evidence to support the claim. I will address the seven sources so often offered to “prove” the resurrection. Then, I will let the readers make their own mind up, or correct me in my understanding.
Bart D. Ehrman makes a good point of the existence of Christ, and I have no problem with the historicity of Christ; I do not consider myself a Mythicist—but I do have an issue with the supernaturalist claims related to Christ.
I will, however, present some concerns on the evidence presented for the historicity of Christ to move the conversation forward…
First, it must be said that the Ressurection is a theological claim, one often misrepresented as an empirical claim. There lies the main issue. No amount of correct historical and geographical background leads to the assertion that characters or stories are true. The exact description of New York City and its zeitgeist in the mid 60’s is no evidence that Spiderman is true, and even less that he holds superpowers. In the case of Jesus, any clues we have to his existence are at the least arguable, while the supernatural claims are simply impossible to demonstrate and deserve to be treated with healthy skepticism.
The Historian Richard Carrier states, “As David Hume once said, ‘why do such things not happen now?’ Is it a coincidence that the very time when these things no longer happen is the same time that we have the means and methods to check them in the light of science and careful investigation?”
Anyway, let’s start!
(My comments in Blue.)
The Resurrection Proof #1: The Empty Tomb of Jesus
THE ARGUMENT: The empty tomb may be the strongest proof Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Two major theories have been advanced by unbelievers: someone stole Jesus’ body or the women and disciples went to the wrong tomb.
The Jews and Romans had no motive to steal the body. Christ’s apostles were too cowardly and would have had to overcome the Roman guards. The women who found the tomb empty had earlier watched Jesus being laid away; they knew where the correct tomb was. Even if they had gone to the wrong tomb, the Sanhedrin could have produced the body from the right tomb to stop the resurrection stories. Jesus’ burial cloths were left neatly folded inside, hardly the act of hurrying grave robbers. Angels said Jesus had risen from the dead.
This is a story. It’s a statement of unverifiable and alleged facts. in other words, it’s not even an argument, just an assertion. It’s weak. This claim is not only hearsay—the writers are not even in agreement with each other! (Homework: Compare Luke 24:12; John 20:2-8; Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:11 and Luke 24:11).
This will be ignored by the biased believer, but for a person of reason, it makes a very important point on the inerrancy of the Biblical “story”, albeit not on the historical background.
—Angels?* Um… okay. Next!…
The Resurrection Proof #2: The Holy Women Eyewitnesses
THE ARGUMENT: The holy women eyewitnesses are further proof that the Gospels are accurate historical records. If the accounts had been made up, no ancient author would have used women for witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Women were second class citizens in Bible times; their testimony was not even allowed in court. Yet the Bible says the risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene and other holy women. Even the apostles did not believe Mary when she told them the tomb was empty. Jesus, who always had special respect for these women, honored them as the first eyewitnesses to his resurrection. The male Gospel writers had no choice but to report this embarrassing act of God’s favor, because that was how it happened.
First, what is a Holy Woman (or man for that matter)?
Anyway, the hard “evidence” here is flimsy enough to ignore.
Did the disciples not believe Mary because she was a woman? The disciples knew that Jesus had a special respect for women. When he first witnessed to the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4), the disciples knew about it (John 4:27).
It’s no breaking news that women could have influence in the Bible (Rahab; Ruth; Naomi; Miriam; Deborah; Huldah; Noadiah Isaiah’s wife; Anna; The Daughters of Phillip… and many, many more).
—The idea of this being an embarrassing witness is not proof of Truth—I have no idea where someone could go with that…
The Resurrection Proof #3: Jesus’ Apostles’ New-Found Courage
THE ARGUMENT: After the crucifixion, Jesus’ apostles hid behind locked doors, terrified they would be executed next. But something changed them from cowards to bold preachers. Anyone who understands human character knows people do not change that much without some major influence. That influence was seeing their Master, bodily risen from the dead. Christ appeared to them in the locked room, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and on the Mount of Olives. After seeing Jesus alive, Peter and the others left the locked room and preached the risen Christ, unafraid of what would happen to them. They quit hiding because they knew the truth. They finally understood that Jesus is God incarnate, who saves people from sin.
Yes. That is the “story”, yet again.
“Anyone who understands human character knows people do not change that much without some major influence.” Indeed, I’ve been writing fiction for almost 40 years, and I confirm that character development must be coherent with the plot twists.
So, the apostles write that they are courageous. They write about this over 50-60 years after the events and write that they went courageously ahead. I see nothing there to even argue. It’s nothing. Just authors stating how great they are.
—At best this kind of writing is “hagiographic” (a biography that idealizes its subject, or the writing of the lives of saints).
The rest is hazy at best. Nothing that would hold in a court.
The Resurrection Proof #4: Changed Lives of James and Others
THE ARGUMENT: Changed lives are yet another proof of the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Why? The Bible says the risen Christ appeared to him. What a shock to see your own brother, alive again, after you knew he was dead. James and the apostles were effective missionaries because people could tell these men had touched and seen the risen Christ. With such zealous eyewitnesses, the early church exploded in growth, spreading west from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. For 2,000 years, encounters with the resurrected Jesus have changed lives.
I hardly know what to say about this! Change is proof of the resurrection? Does anyone deny the many lives that are changed by Muhammad? How about Darwin? He has arguably changed our lives more than Jesus, thru medication, longer lifespan, and scientific understanding (even how we create computer programs). I could use that argument too, and say that’s proof of evolution (the difference being that natural selection is empirical, not supernatural).
Again, let me drive this home once and for all: supernatural claims cannot be known nor demonstrated.
This “Proof “#4 is dismal at best. People change for many reasons, and yes, some do change for “receiving Christ”… but I question the validity of personal revelation; like I question other religious claims, supernatural revelations, and miracles too.
About miracles, in 1995, Hindu statues apparently began drinking the offered milk of devotees, and this happened in Trinidad too. Others claim being abducted by UFOs in much detail. Trust me, it changes them too.
—These are also mass-witnessed events. Sometimes deluded, sometimes, like the “milk miracle”, it produces a later scientific explanation.
The Resurrection Proof #5: Large Crowd of Eyewitnesses
THE ARGUMENT: A large crowd of more than 500 eyewitnesses saw the risen Jesus Christ at the same time. The Apostle Paul records this event in 1 Corinthians 15:6. He states that most of these men and women were still alive when he wrote this letter, about 55 A.D. Undoubtedly they told others about this miracle. Today, psychologists say it would be impossible for a large crowd of people to have had the same hallucination at once. Smaller groups also saw the risen Christ, such as the apostles, and Cleopas and his companion. They all saw the same thing, and in the case of the apostles, they touched Jesus and watched him eat food. The hallucination theory is further debunked because after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, sightings of him stopped.
I have mostly answered to that above, with Proof #4.
—So—Pause for a moment.
Douglas Geivett, Professor of Philosophy and Christian apologist, has declared that the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus is of “the highest standards of historical inquiry.” he compares it to the “well attested” crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 B.C.
—Historian Richard Carrier has this to say, and I quote:
• First of all, we have Caesar’s own word on the subject. Indeed, The Civil War has been a Latin classic for two thousand years, written by Caesar himself and by one of his generals and closest of friends. In contrast, we do not have anything written by Jesus, and we do not know for certain the name of any author of any of the accounts of his earthly resurrection.
• Second, we have many of Caesar’s enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians’ own claims had been widely spread around.
• Third, we have a number of inscriptions and coins produced soon after the Republican Civil War related to the Rubicon crossing, including mentions of battles and conscriptions and judgments, which provide evidence for Caesar’s march. On the other hand, we have absolutely no physical evidence of any kind in the case of the resurrection.
• Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch. Moreover, these scholars have a measure of proven reliability, since a great many of their reports on other matters have been confirmed in material evidence and in other sources. In addition, they often quote and name many different sources, showing a wide reading of the witnesses and documents, and they show a desire to critically examine claims for which there is any dispute. If that wasn’t enough, all of them cite or quote sources written by witnesses, hostile and friendly, of the Rubicon crossing and its repercussions.
—Compare this with the resurrection: we have not even a single established historian mentioning the event until the 3rd and 4th centuries, and then only by Christian historians. And of those few others who do mention it within a century of the event, none of them show any wide reading, never cite any other sources, show no sign of a skilled or critical examination of conflicting claims, have no other literature or scholarship to their credit that we can test for their skill and accuracy, are completely unknown, and have an overtly declared bias towards persuasion and conversion.”
Sounds like reasonable critical thinking to me.
Faith will dismiss it though, because facts are “irrelevant” to Faith.
And that’s my whole point.
The Resurrection Proof #6: Conversion of Paul
THE ARGUMENT: The conversion of Paul records the most drastically changed life in the Bible. As Saul of Tarsus, he was an aggressive persecutor of the early church. When the risen Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, Paul became Christianity’s most determined missionary. He endured five floggings, three beatings, three shipwrecks, a stoning, poverty, and years of ridicule. Finally, the Roman emperor Nero had Paul beheaded because the apostle refused to deny his faith in Jesus. What could make a person willingly accept—even welcome—such hardships? Christians believe the conversion of Paul came about because he encountered Jesus Christ who had risen from the dead.
Christians would believe that, obviously. But is this evidence?
Many, MANY people get persecuted for what they stand for or believe. Even children today are killed for being alleged witches. How many homosexuals have suffered torture and death for being different? more than 2,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses died in the concentration camps simply for refusing to salute the Führer. One signature and they were saved. Does that make the Watchtower Society a true follower of Christ?
Persecution proves nothing more than how vile and authoritative mankind can be. Look at the Inquisition… sorry to mention that. I know it must be just as unpleasant to Christians than to talk about 9/11 to peaceful Islamists.
The Resurrection Proof #7: They Died for Jesus
THE ARGUMENT: Countless people have died for Jesus, absolutely certain that the resurrection of Christ is a historical fact. Tradition says ten of the original apostles died as martyrs for Christ, as did the Apostle Paul. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of early Christians died in the Roman arena and in prisons for their faith. Down through the centuries, thousands more have died for Jesus because they believed the resurrection is true. Even today, people suffer persecution because they have faith that Christ rose from the dead. An isolated group may give up their lives for a cult leader, but Christian martyrs have died in many lands, for nearly 2,000 years, believing Jesus conquered death to give them eternal life.
This is simply the same argument than #6, with just more people.
This is not proof on ANY level. MANY died for religious reasons:
- The Crusades: 6,000,000
- Thirty Years War: 11,500,000
- French Wars of Religion: 4,000,000
- Second Sudanese Civil War: 2,000,000
- Lebanese Civil War: 250,000
- Muslim Conquests of India: 80,000,000
- Congolese Genocide (King Leopold II): 13,000,000
- Armenian Genocide: 1,500,000
- Rwandan Genocide: 800,000
- Eighty Years’ War: 1,000,000
- Nigerian Civil War: 1,000,000
- Great Peasants’ Revolt: 250,000
- First Sudanese Civil War: 1,000,000
- Jewish Diaspora (Not Including the Holocaust): 1,000,000
- The Holocaust (Jewish and Homosexual Deaths): 6,500,000
- Islamic Terrorism Since 2000: 150,000
- Iraq War: 500,000
- US Western Expansion (Justified by “Manifest Destiny”):20,000,000
- Atlantic Slave Trade (Justified by Christianity): 14,000,000
- Aztec Human Sacrifice: 80,000
- AIDS deaths in Africa largely due to opposition to condoms: 30,000,000
- Spanish Inquisition: 5,000
TOTAL: 195,035,000 deaths in the name of religion (estimation), and I must have missed a few.
So, saying that “Even today, people suffer persecution because they have faith that Christ rose from the dead” is totally irrelevant.
Others suffer persecution for other gods and convictions, or worse, simply for their way of life.
Is there evidence that Christ did not resurrect?
Well, can we name any historical or modern person that has returned from the dead in a supernatural fashion?
Any historical or modern person that defied nature with a shred of evidence to back up the supernatural claims?
There is so much more to say. So much…
This is just one subject dear to Christian’s hearts. I would not bother if I wasn’t constantly reminded what I once believed all of this myself—when I was in a conclusion; when I was so damn sure what I knew was set in stone; that without the God of my culture I could not know anything. I was so proud to “know”… but my epistemology was crap.
Now, I’m humbled by the fact that the little I know can be corrected upon better knowledge. I don’t state things like I used to. Religion had its use in our evolution. It was a tutor that led to scientific understanding, just like philosophy. Today, religion is toxic to progress, the process of learning, and it pollutes our politics.
Again, I personally do not question the historicity of Christ as much as I question the supernatural claims about him.
One scripture I do enjoy taking out of context is John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Indeed… *wink*
* I will address the Angel subject later.