Ever since I converted to Christianity from Mormonism at 17 years old, my heart has always been for Christians to know how they think about God. Most followers of Christ I cross paths with can articulate how they feel about God, but few can explain why, what, and how God works. I understand there is an unknowable amount of subject matter to dig through when it comes to an infinite God, but are we digging? Are we, as Christians, giving license to ourselves and others to not think critically and ask foundational questions?
Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” In other words, if you’ve stopped seeking God’s knowledge, you’ve lost a deep reverence for God and become the fool.
We could talk about lots of events in the Bible, from Noah’s ark, Joshua asking for the sun to stop in the sky, to Jonah and the big fish, but none of it matters if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Unquestionably the most central aspect of the existence of Jesus and the philosophical centre of our faith rests on the resurrection. Everything makes sense in correlation to the resurrection. Either Jesus rose from the grave, or he didn’t! There is no middle ground to this fact. We are forced to examine the evidence to decipher the claim.
” If Jesus was not raised from the dead, it changes nothing, but if Jesus did rise, it changes everything.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 Paul states, “And 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.” Paul recognizes that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then we should be pitied most as Christians. Even outside the Christian worldview, this is recognized. Christopher Hitchens, a renowned religious critic, author, popular orator, and atheist said this, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice, our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.” Even a religious critic like Hitchens realized everything rests on the claims of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Biblical Claim
One of the biblical claims for the resurrection of Jesus comes from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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.”
Over the course of history, many arguments have been made refuting the resurrection claim:
- Swoon Theory: Jesus did not die on the cross. He merely passed out and resuscitated in the tomb.
- Wrong Tomb Theory: The women, in their grief and sorrow, arrived at the wrong tomb, then left, and began proclaiming the resurrection.
- Stolen Body Theory: The disciples took the body of Jesus while the guards were asleep and then claimed it was a resurrection.
- Spiritual Resurrection Theory: Christ’s resurrection was purely spiritual, and after the crucifixion, his actual body remained in the grave.
- Mass Deception Theory: The disciples conspired together and fabricated the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
- Mass Hallucination Theory: Post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were not literal but hallucinations experienced by His followers.
- Legend Theory: The resurrection was simply a myth or legend that was embellished over time.
At the foundation of all these theories rests two propositions; The apostles where either deceivers or deceived!
The idea behind this theory is the apostles intentionally manufactured and executed the largest and most successful con every conceived in history.
Problems with this theory
1. The apostles would need to steal the body of Jesus for this all to work. The problem lay in that the tomb was heavily guarded by Roman soldiers as to make sure this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. We see in Matthew 27:62-66, “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” Pilate issues an order that grants the Roman guards to do whatever necessary to guard the tomb of Jesus. You can bet that when the Roman guard was tasked with a job like this they did it very well. Also, considering the apostles were not skilled thieves, but lower class fisherman and common people, they lacked the necessary abilities to skirt around a guarded tomb and steal the body of Jesus.
2. Women historically were the worst people to have as witnesses to represent the resurrection story. In Luke 24:1-3 we see that women were the first to proclaim the missing body of Jesus, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” A few verses later in Luke 24:9-12, “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” Women were most certainly the first evangelists in the Bible, but also the most culturally unfit to perpetuate this tale because of their low social status in the first century.
William L. Craig states, “Apart from all this, however, the fact that women witnessed these events is made very probable when one considers the low credibility given to women in Jewish society. Their testimony was regarded so poorly that women were not even considered qualified to serve as legal witnesses.” Another common saying amongst first century Jews was, “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women.” If the apostles intentionally invented witnesses to the resurrection event, why would they use the testimony of women? Not only was it worthless, but also embarrassing for the early church.
3. Somehow we see a transformation of the disciples from disheartened to bold witnesses of the resurrection. Something happened to cause this transformation. Most likely a miraculous event congruent to the resurrection, not a lie. J. Warner Wallace says, “This skeptical apostolic conspiracy theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax.” If the resurrection wasn’t the motivation of the apostles, then what was?
Former homicide detective J. Warner Wallace asserts there are three motives at the foundation for every lie; Financial gain, relational desire, and the pursuit of power. The apostles and those that identified themselves with Jesus were afforded none of these privileges. They suffered and died horrific deaths for what they believed.
4. The apostles would need to go outside of the inner circle of Jesus and convince massive amounts of people to perpetuate their lie. We observe in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 that Jesus appears to many people, “and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles and, last of all, he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
5. In summary William Lane Craig notes, “who holds to this theory must believe (1) that twelve poor fishermen were able to change the world through a plot laid so deep that no one has ever been able to discern where the cheat lay, (2) that these men gave up the pursuit of happiness and ventured into poverty, torments, and persecutions for nothing, (3) that depressed and fearful men would have suddenly grown so brave as to break into the tomb and steal the body, and (4) that these imposters would furnish the world with the greatest system of morality that ever was.” The evidence, the motivation, the means, and the opportunity were not there for any other possibility than a resurrection.
Based on the theory that the apostles and everyone professing to encounter Jesus only imagined seeing him alive after his death on the cross. A mass hallucination event occurred.
An excerpt from Scientific American by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University confirms this position – as far-fetched as it may be – is still active today. Michael says, “What about the eyewitnesses? Maybe they “were superstitious or credulous” and saw what they wanted to see, Shapiro suggests. “Maybe they reported only feeling Jesus ‘in spirit,’ and over the decades their testimony was altered to suggest that they saw Jesus in the flesh. Maybe accounts of the resurrection never appeared in the original gospels and were added in later centuries. Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus’s resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.”
J. Warner Wallace sees five problems with this position.
- While individuals have hallucinations, there are no examples of large groups of people having the exact same hallucination.
- While a short, momentary group hallucination may seem reasonable, long, sustained, and detailed hallucinations are unsupported historically and intuitively unreasonable.
- The risen Christ was reported seen on more than one occasion and by a number of different groups (and subsets of groups). All of these diverse sightings would have to be additional group hallucinations of one nature or another.
- Not all the disciples were inclined favourably toward such a hallucination. The disciples included people like Thomas, who was skeptical and did not expect Jesus to come back to life.
- If the resurrection was simply a hallucination, what became of Jesus’ corpse? The absence of the body is unexplainable under this scenario.
To conclude this thought, in his book “The Son Rises,” William L. Craig says,“The second alternative, that the disciples were deceived, implies that the belief in the resurrection is due to religious hysteria and hallucinations. But this alternative fails on several grounds: (1) Not just one person saw Jesus appear after His resurrection, but many. (2) Not just lone individuals saw Him, but groups of people. (3) They did not see Him only once, but many times. (4) They did not merely see Him, but touched Him, conversed with Him, and ate with Him. (5) Jesus’ body was not to be found. That is the decisive argument against the religious hallucination hypothesis.”
Either the cross changes everything for us, or it changes nothing! If Jesus never raised from the dead, then I would suggest quitting your jobs, taking a permanent vacation and doing your best to live a life of pure pleasure, because when we remove the possibility for immortality, death becomes our ultimate enemy.
Loren Eiseley, self-proclaimed naturalist and writer of “The Cosmic Orphan,” says, “Death is certainly man’s greatest enemy. In losing God, modern man has lost immortality as well. Death means eternal annihilation. This prospect robs life of its meaning and fullness. It makes the life of man no better than the life of a cow or horse, only more tragic. In light of death, the activities that cram our life seem so pointless. Thus Archibald MacLeish described the life of man as an idiotic circus— until one day the show is all over:”
If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it changes everything! It means it is possible to move from being spiritually dead to being alive in God. It turns fear into love, despair into joy, guilt into freedom, anxiety into hope. The resurrection grants meaning to life, existence, and purpose. It gives persistence to your love for one another. It makes valid all God’s promises.
- The Son Rises by William Laine Craig
- The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona
- Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by Gary R. Habermas and JP Moreland
- The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona
- Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection by Stephen T Davis
- The Resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright
- Resurrection Reconsidered by Gavin D’Costa
- Defending the Resurrection by James Patrick Holding
- Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl
- Debating Christian Theism by JP Moreland
- Forensic Faith by J Warner Wallace