%@ Page Language="VB" ContentType="text/html" ResponseEncoding="iso-8859-1" %>
It doesn't surprise me that Christians need to convince agnostics and atheists,
Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
the dead. But what astounds me is that by far the most vocal opponents of the
physical resurrection of Jesus Christ are liberal "Christian" scholars.
For example, High-profile liberals like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark has disputed the idea that Jesus literally rose from the dead. In his book Jesus for the Non-Religious, Spong argues that "to literalize Resurrection has become the defining heresy of traditional Protestant and Catholic Christianity."
John Dominic Crossan, a Roman Catholic and a former professor at DePaul University, said the Resurrection is best understood as a metaphor. Saying the Resurrection "is a metaphor doesn't dismiss it. Crossan said. "I get the message, I get the challenge from the metaphor." But a metaphor is not a real event and to call resurrection a metaphor is to lose the reality of God in the world.
"The truth is that where you stand on the Resurrection tends to mirror how you interpret the Bible", said Stephen T. Davis, a professor of philosophy at California's Claremont McKenna College (quoted in Washington Post, By Daniel Burke, Religion News Service. Saturday, 3/ 31/07)
People Just Don't Come Back to Life
What clouds the issue is one of assumptions and worldview. Today's opponents of a literal, bodily resurrection assume a Western scientific worldview where if something cannot be explained or proven by science, it is unscientific and false. Paul's opponents, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who heard him preach on Jesus' resurrection made fun of him (Acts 17:18, 32) because their worldview included the immortality of the soul, but not physical resurrection of the dead. But for those who struggle with their own mortality, the news that Jesus overcame death and was raised to life gives hope. It is "Good News." In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the core of the good news preached by the early church.
Is the resurrection historical?
Liberal Christian writers say no. "We can no longer understand the resurrection of Jesus in a literal sense, i.e. in a bloody way for historically speaking we do not know the slightest thing about the tomb (was it empty? Was it an individual tomb at all?) And about the fate of Jesus' corpse: did it decay? At any rate I regard this conclusion as unavoidable [Gerd Luedemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (translated by John Bowden; Fortress Press, 1994), p. 180]"
To them, Jesus' resurrection can't be examined with the normal tools of historical inquiry because it is:
The resurrection is history. Today's
historians examine events that happened two or three millennia ago all the time.
There are accepted ways to determine historical probabilities. However, the
problem with the resurrection is not that it can't be demonstrated historically,
but that it can't be explained in naturalistic terms. The explanation requires
recognition that God has intervened in history - and that is the roadblock for
many to believe it.
Is the resurrection myth?
By these scholars own testimony,
a myth develops over a number of generations. There are no other events in other
literature where myth developed and was believed in the presence of eyewitnesses
and within the short timeframe in which the New Testament was formed. Further,
the Gospels don't resemble either Greek myth or Jewish legend. [Bultmann, Kerygma
and Myth, 42, cited by Ladd, Resurrection, 136-137.]
In comparison to myth, the Gospels understate, lack embellishment, and often contain details counterproductive to the invention of legendary heroes. For example, these factors from John 20 show the contrast:
Even by the end of the day, the
disciples (the secondary "heroes") were still in hiding "for
fear of the Jews" (John 20:19).
If the Gospels are as chauvinistic as feminists charge, it is incredible the writers would have chosen women to be the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. The testimony of women didn't even count legally in that day. Yet, it was their courage the morning after the Resurrection that put the men's contrasting cowardice to shame.
Sir William Ramsay, regarded as a great archaeologist in the 20th century, concluded, "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." The reason is that the story of the gospels is history - not myth.
Alternate Theories of the Resurrection
Before we demonstrate the evidence of the resurrection, let's consider those theories people present to explain the gospel narratives.
1. Theft Theory
The theft theory is the first explanation given by Jesus' enemies and is still suggested by resurrection opponents today. When soldiers reported to the chief priests that the stone had been rolled away, they were given "a large sum of money" to tell the story that "His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep" (Matthew 28:11-15).
The problems with this explanation are three-fold: (1) The disciples had no motive to steal the body. (2) Roman soldiers who fall asleep on watch are subject to death. (3) The disciples wouldn't have died for a faith they knew not to be true.
2. Swoon Theory
According to the swoon theory, originally propounded by a German scholar Paulus in 1828, Jesus didn't really die but was weakened by his wounds and loss of blood and slipped into a coma and presumed dead. Later, they say, in the cool of the tomb, he revived and left the tomb.
The problems in this theory are (1) the spear thrust to his side apparently pierced his pericardium and released blood and water, signifying death. If Jesus had survived, (2) the cool of the tomb would be more likely to kill than revive him. Also, in his weakened condition (3) he would have had to unwrap himself from the burial wrappings - or be helped by friends - and roll the stone away.
3. Wrong Tomb Theory
First developed by Kirsopp Lake (1872-1946), a noted English Biblical scholar and Harvard professor who wrote Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1907), this theory suggests that the women mistook the location of the actual tomb where Jesus' body was. Instead, a young man, guessing their errand, points them in the right direction saying, "He is not here, see the place where they laid him" (misquoting Mark 16:6), but the women misunderstand, are frightened, and flee.
The problem, of course, is that (1) Mary Magdalene had been to that tomb two days prior on Friday night (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47). In addition, (2) it bore the seal of Rome and there was a guard of Roman soldiers camped in front of it. They couldn't have missed it. (3) And if this theory were true, all the Jewish authorities would have needed to do to refute claims of the resurrection would be to produce Jesus' body. They didn't.
4. Vision Theory
German New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) sought to "demythologize" the gospel and make it believable to modern man. He wrote in 1941 of "the incredibility of a mythical event like the resuscitation of a corpse - for that is what resurrection means." Since a bodily resurrection was out of the question for Bultmann, he theorized that the disciples experienced subjective visions that convinced them that Jesus had risen from the dead. He wrote,
"The historian can perhaps to some extent account for that faith [in the resurrection] from the personal intimacy which the disciples had enjoyed with Jesus during his earthly life and so reduce the resurrection appearances to a series of subjective visions." [Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth, p. 42, cited by Ladd, Resurrection, 136-137].
The problem, of course, is that it doesn't explain the exploding growth of the Jerusalem church based on the preaching of the resurrection. To refute this, (1) all Jesus' enemies would have to do would be to produce the body. Sometimes called the Hallucination Theory, this is a desperate theory without support. (2) It is inconsistent with the disciples' mental state and (3) doesn't explain Jesus' appearance to 500 persons at once. Maybe one person might see a vision others can't - but 500 at one time?
Five Important Facts of Resurrection Morning
What does add up to a credible story, however, is the evidence of the New Testament. Let's examine the cumulative power of the account that makes it by far the most plausible explanation of what happened on Resurrection morning.
1. The Empty Tomb
The first important fact of Resurrection morning is that tomb is empty. This in and of itself does not create faith in the resurrection. To Mary Magdalene it was a sign of grave robbers but any explanation of the resurrection must deal with the fact that Jesus' tomb was empty. In other words, there must be some explanation of what happened to his body.
2. The Undisturbed Grave Clothes
The second important fact of Resurrection morning is that two of the gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus' grave clothes lay essentially undisturbed on the stone shelf within the tomb. None of the alternate theories above attempt an explanation. If the grave clothes were missing or even thrown on the floor it could have meant that Jesus' body had been stolen or even revived and left. But for them to be still folded as they had been when they had been wrapped round and round Jesus' body is very strange. It indicates that his body just slipped out of them without disturbance. The best explanation is that Jesus' body was raised from the dead miraculously by God.
3. The Disciples' Psychological State
The third important fact of Resurrection morning is the disciples' psychological state, which is mentioned in all four gospels. They were in hiding, discouraged, and disheartened. They did not at first believe the women's report of Jesus' resurrection. It was only after Jesus appeared to them in person that they believed. This indicates that they were not inclined to concoct a story of Jesus' resurrection, to mistake Jesus' missing body for resurrection, or inclined to steal Jesus' body. But let's suppose for a moment that they were part of a conspiracy to steal Jesus' body and claim that he had been raised from the dead. Of the original 12 disciples, ten were martyred for their faith. Only John seemed to have died of natural causes. As Origin put it, men do not risk their lives and suffer martyrdom for a lie.
4. The Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus
The fourth important fact of Resurrection morning involves Jesus' appearances to several individuals and to ten of the disciples at the same time - all on the Sunday of the resurrection.
The statements of Act.1:3, 10:41,
and 13:31 imply the possibility that he had made many appearances beside those
The gospel writers and Paul are crystal clear that the risen Christ appeared to different individuals and groups of people at different times over a period of about 40 days. This pretty well shoots down the vision theory - all the alternate resurrection theories in fact. Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that "most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep," in other words, he is claiming that eyewitnesses were living then -- approximately 53-55 AD - to whom Jesus had actually appeared. This was not some kind of secretive, hidden phenomenon, but was openly known and talked about in the early church.
Detractors claim there were no credible eyewitnesses. That is patently false; they are merely choosing to disbelieve any of the New Testament accounts.
5. The Spread of Christianity
The final important fact of the Resurrection account really took place after Resurrection Sunday in the rapid growth of the Church. Fifty days after the Passover on which Jesus was crucified was the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. On that day the Holy Spirit fell upon 120 believers who were gathered praying. "The rest is history," as they say. The Holy Spirit prompted the apostles to preach that Jesus had been raised from the dead - in the very city where he had been crucified and buried.
"But God raised him from the
dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death
to keep its hold on him." (Acts 2:24).
"God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact." (Acts 2:32).
"You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this." (Acts 3:15).
" Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 4:10).
"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33).
"The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree." (Acts 5:30).
The church grew to 3,000 on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), then to 5,000 men (Acts 4:4), one fifth the population of Jerusalem, then the New Testament records that many among the priests of the city believed (Acts 6:7). When the Jews began heavy persecution against the Christian church, they preached the resurrection wherever they went.
The Sufficiency of the Evidence
Taken individually, the various details of Jesus' resurrection would be powerful. But taking all the evidence together, the case for the resurrection is compelling. No alternate theory of the resurrection explains the remarkable facts of:
What seems to some as too good to be true indeed is true. We all face death, but Christ's resurrection is the Good News that we Christians can proclaim to our world. Dying Was His Reason for Living. And Being Raised was God's verdict the story was true.
"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" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
by Don Hooton via e-points April 9, 2007
Return to the General Articles page
Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /