All the Experts Agree
It seems like the supposed experts agree: Jesus did not rise from the dead. If you’re looking for some scholarly or academic ways to deny the resurrection, just Google it, and you will have plenty of choices. That’s the problem. Among resurrection deniers, there is consensus that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but no consensus about what actually happened.
Around Easter and Christmas every year, someone who wants to sell books or make documentaries will create a cutting edge explanation of the historical Jesus, or the historical Bible, or the historical crucifixion. Sadly, these explanations are rarely historical or cutting edge. They tend to be recycled, dated arguments that make significant factual errors or expose unfair biases held by the purveyors of these ideas.
As a result, it would be worthwhile to take some of these ideas to task and examine the holes in the various theories against the resurrection.
1. The Man “Jesus” Was Made Up</h1
Of all the theories against the resurrection, this is the most foolish because the wealth of data is overwhelming.
Consider the historical testimonies of two contemporary non-Christians historians.
Tacitus, a Roman governor lived from 56-117 AD, wrote about the Emperor Nero's treatment of the early Christians:
But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Josephus, a early Jewish historian, wrote about Christians as a Pharisee, whom typically hated Jesus:
Antiquities 18.3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
The apostles wrote their works with minimal interactions making many of them semi-independent, and they line up exactly as you would expect eyewitness testimonies to line up. Additionally, we have smooth historical foundations along the timeline. For example, Polycarp was a disciple of John, the last living apostle, and we still have his writings today.
2. Jesus Didn’t Actually Die, He Just Went Into a Coma and Three Days Later he Woke Up and Claimed to Resurrect.
If you’re into fanciful explanations of things, you should be able to do better than this. Paul testified to getting “the 40 lashes minus one” 5 times at the hand of the Jews. Why didn’t he just say 39? Because the cultural idiom at the time claimed that 40 lashes will kill a person. So when someone is given 39 lashes it’s saying you’re taking them as far as you can get without killing them. Jesus got these before his crucifixion even began. In other words, Jesus was near death before he was even nailed to the cross.
Then, you put him on a cross and pierce him in the wrists and the head, where he will bleed the most. Simultaneously, his body weight is causing suffocation and the extreme blood loss is keeping oxygen levels to his brain low. He is lifting himself up to take breaths while near death for hours. Keep in mind that the night before he was sweating blood, meaning his blood vessels were bursting due to his immense stress. He was in bad shape before he was even whipped.
At the end of his crucifixion, after he was already declared dead, a Roman soldier pierced his heart open with a spear, just in case.
In order for this theory to work, Jesus had to have survived this whole process. Then, he apparently chilled in a tomb for 3 days without food or water, with incredible blood loss, just to make sure he could fake this prophetic fulfillment. Then, he pushes away a 2-ton stone, fights off the armed guards from the most experienced army in the known world using karate, then jogs seven miles down the road to Emmaus to catch up with his disciples (Luke 24), gives them a Bible lesson of the entire Old Testament, and only then eats with them.
That, or the Bible was right.
3. Jesus Did Die, But He Didn’t Rise From the Dead.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead after dying, his body would be in the tomb until it had been decomposed. The Pharisees (such as Saul, who became Paul) persecuted Christians, traveling around killing them. If Jesus was still dead, then they could just go to the tomb, get the remains and parade them around the city. Then Christianity would have been instantly and reliably debunked. Yet, they couldn’t do that because the remains weren’t there.
Well suppose the disciples stole the body. Keep in mind the guard would have been executed if he accepted a bribe, so these fishermen would have needed to plan a pretty awesome ambush.
Ok. Suppose they pulled that off. Now explain why all of the thirteen apostles suffered insane persecution repeatedly for their whole lives and lived in poverty and generosity their whole lives. Twelve were killed as martyrs on account of the resurrection and the remaining one died in exile after an escaped attempt at murdering him. These guys would have known if they stole the body, and there is simply no motive to propagate the lie.
But, suppose for some reason they did. Well, look at 1 Corinthians 15:6. Paul appeals to what is supposedly a shared fact among them that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at a time of whom there were living witnesses.
There is just no chance the disciples stole the body.
4. There was a decoy Jesus (Jebus?), He Died, Then Whamo-Blamo Real Jesus Pops Out Resurrected
Idea held by: Orthodox Muslims (a similar argument is actually in the Koran)
He wasn’t crucified in the dark. People knew what he looked like. They sat there and watched him die, and the Sunday before (Palm Sunday) they welcomed him hailing him as the Messiah. Thousands of people watched him teach for hours and crowds of people watched his crucifixion. If there was an impostor, someone would have known.
Bonus: Jesus Rose From the Dead Metaphorically/Allegorically/Spiritually
If this were true, then his physical body would have still been in the tomb and all the arguments from number 3 would still stand. Additionally, in the Grecco-Roman world, the only people with a theology/philosophy/worldview in which resurrection could occur were the Jews (See N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God). Hence it makes perfect sense that those in the Areopagus of Athens who heard Paul preach the resurrection of Jesus scoffed at the very notion of resurrection. Finally, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus shows his scarred hands and eats broiled fish purely to prove that he is not a disembodied spirit.
“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
About the Experts
Yes, the experts go to incredible lengths to discredit the resurrection because they have an agenda. Scholars feel silly claiming that miracles happened and that Jonah was in a whale, so out of a desire to look smart they argue against the Bible’s claims. Many others have been radically hurt by legalistic religion and people who held to the inerrancy of the Bible and so they are really wanting to discredit the resurrection out of bitterness. A lot of people perceive Christians as bigots and want to spite Christianity in the name of gay rights or other issues that produce tension with Christianity. As a result, many academics propagate these myths with a lot of dishonest techniques.
1. Appeals to scholarly consensus that just isn’t there (but most people wouldn’t know)
2. Appeals to archeology that likewise isn’t there (but most people wouldn’t know)
3. Claiming (without citing) the presence of innumerable contradictions in the gospels
4. Pretending to discover something in the original languages (assuming that most people can’t read them)
5. Presupposing their arguments (“Since we know that resurrection is impossible, we need to read this narrative in light of…”)
6. Using academic condescension (“Surely you don’t believe that these are literal stories…”)
7. Making personal attacks (“All thinking men are atheists.”)
The real trick is to find a way to be kind and loving while absolutely demolishing the content of these arguments. It’s just like Romans 1 says. When you exchange the truth for a lie, God will give you over to a debased mind. Yet God is even merciful enough to pluck people out and bring them to trust in Jesus. As the saying goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”