Christmas time brings a lot of different emotions and events together. Reminiscence of the year gone by, to the sudden upcoming of events scheduled with friends and family can lead to a lot of distraction. The stress of planning, shopping, and partying can leave us with fun, but also exhaustion. Perhaps this year you may think about the name behind Christmas, that is, Jesus Christ. For some, he was a good teacher that taught high morals. For others, he was a made up fictional character of history, or as some of our Muslim neighbors consider him, a prophet.
But for me, he is the Son of God.
Perhaps you may be a skeptic reading this to which I’d say, I’m happy you’re reading! For fellow brothers and sisters, this may give you some more knowledge to explain your faith to those who question your beliefs, or it may allow you to nerd out a bit.
Why do I believe this Jewish rabbi from 2000 years ago rose from the dead? Well… I believe based on the evidence.
So, here is part II of the evidence for the Resurrection.
In part I of this series, I discussed the supporting historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. In this part II, I will go into some opposing theories made by skeptics, and refute them. I will make part III as well sometime in the future as there are a lot of opposing theories.
The term apologetics means to defend religious beliefs using logical discourse. All too often, atheists and skeptics will claim religion is inherently illogical, to which I’d say, have you looked into the evidence? Most of you probably know my story, but if not, it was apologetics that led me to faith in Christ. It wasn’t blind wishful thinking. Systematic thorough research, reading, studying, and asking about the evidence for Jesus and figuring out whether who he claimed to be was true. I found the evidence leaned heavily towards Jesus being who he claimed to be.
And so, to borrow from the great apologist John Lennox, “faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence”. I grant that the Bible can be a strange story to hear, and some Christians don’t have logical reasons for believing. But the evidence is there if you are looking for it.
In part I, I listed the 5 minimal facts of historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus.
1) Jesus died by crucifixion
2) Jesus’ disciples truly believed they saw the risen Christ
3) The apostle Paul converted
4) James, the brother of Jesus converted
5) The tomb was empty
This is the minimal facts argument made famous by the New Testament scholar, Gary Habermas. Any opposing theory must account for these pieces of evidence. So let’s get into it!
Opposing theory #1 – Legend
Skeptics will claim that the stories in the New Testament (NT) grew over time. Like the game of telephone where one person whispers something to the one next to them, and then from person to person the original message is distorted. So if that much change can happen in one game of telephone, how much more did the NT become corrupted over time? Well according to the wealth of manuscripts available, textual critics say not at all. There are some grammatical errors and a few words misused and mistranslated by human error, like any document of history. But the original doctrinal message is the same as since the original. Even the famous NT scholar and agnostic, Bart Ehrman, concedes this fact. Check this video out for more info on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ5cgQUJnrI
The theory of the game of telephone does not acknowledge the facts either. Since these scriptures were written down and copied from an early date, then we have to look if legend crept in the oral tradition before they were written down as early as the year 49 AD in the Apostle Paul’s letters.
There are problems with this theory though. First, the Apostles Creed, was an original oral creed that the apostles taught of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Easily memorized and repeatable. If the resurrection story developed over time, then the original story would not have included this doctrine of resurrection because the facts we have on the lives of the apostles contradict it.
Furthermore, the legend theory implies that oral tradition is the same now as it was in an entirely different culture in history. A lot of detailed information regarding the accuracy of oral tradition can be seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=103&v=vCp-ayAp7fE
The evidence from the disciples contradicts the legend theory. It does not account for Paul’s conversion, James’ conversion, the empty tomb, or fact 2.
Also, an assertion is not evidence that it is true. Legend theory asserts the story of Christ rising from the dead was a legend. But skeptics who hold this view give no evidence for this assertion.
Opposing theory #2 – Story
Skeptics will also argue that the resurrection was never intended to be historical fact. They will say that there were accounts of dying and rising gods throughout the Greco-Roman world, and the authors of that time never intended for their readers to believe that someone rose from the dead. They were just honoring their fallen heroes by giving them traits of divinity and trying to communicate a deeper message. They argue that Jesus also spoke in parables, and of course, his parables were not to be taken as historical stories, but of analogies to communicate a deeper message. And so, the disciples made up the resurrection story in order to communicate a deeper message also.
The first problem I have with this theory is that it doesn’t account for fact 5 – the empty tomb. And so, another theory must be assumed, like someone stole the body. This theory also doesn’t account for the sudden conversion of Paul. Paul as some may know, was a Jewish leader and heavily persecuted early Christians to the point of stoning and death. He was changed suddenly and wrote a large majority of the NT.
Thirdly, this theory does nothing to account for the conversion of James. It is highly doubtful that James would suddenly convert from his Jewish worldview in order to follow his crazed brother and false prophet based on stories made up by the disciples. There are three more problems with this theory as well, but I won’t go into it here for the sake of time and since this is merely a blog post. If you want more, let me know!
Opposing theory #3 – The Resurrection story is a variation or copy of myths in other religions
This is a widely held theory amongst lay skeptics. Indeed, reported miracles of dying and rising gods are seen throughout ancient history like with Horus, Mithra, Adonis, and Attis. But, there are significant differences between each, and indeed most modern skeptics compare Jesus with these gods through no factual basis, just lies. So what makes the resurrection of Jesus more credible than these?
First, the accounts of these gods in other religions are unclear. Justin Martyr writing in 150 AD, is the first record we have of a similar parallel account of the resurrection of Jesus, where he cites the Greek mythological figure, Adonis. Although this account is not reported until after 150 AD, nearly 120 years after the death of Christ. Furthermore, Adonis dying and rising again was never even mentioned in the earliest versions of the story.
As for Horus, the Egyptian god, he was not born of a virgin. His mother was Isis who conceived him through Osiris. Egyptologists do not even claim that Horus was born of a virgin. Along with this, some historians believe Horus was born in a swamp, not a cave, let alone a manger. Some say he had four disciples, or an untold amount of metal workers. He did not walk on water, as some skeptics claim, nor is there evidence to say he was buried or resurrected.
The ancient Persian god, Mithra, is also often compared to Jesus. First, throughout ancient history there have been three different versions of Mithra. The Roman version of Mithra, Persian Mithra, and Vedic Mithra. Being confirmed from multiple sources, in the Roman tradition, Mithra was born out of a rock, not a virgin. In another version, Mithra was born as full-grown adult. As for dying and resurrecting, no evidence anywhere suggests Mithra even died. This is simply a modern lie.
The pagan god Attis is also a terrible comparison to Jesus. No evidence claims Attis was physically resurrected, and there are different stories for how he lived and died. According to historians, the Attis cult actually borrowed from the Christian scriptures. There is no evidence for any of the parallels skeptics try to claim.
There are other ancient gods like Osiris, Serapis, Dionysus, Zoroaster, Buddha, and Inanna, that skeptics claim draw parallels with the story of Jesus. But they’re not true. I don’t have time to go into them all here, but research for yourself from scholarly sources, and you’ll see for yourself!
Opposing theory # 4 – Fraud
The last opposing theories I’ll discuss here is of fraud.
So let’s get into this.
First, making a big claim like the disciples did is not enough for us to believe. It takes a lot more to actually believe a claim like that. Why should we believe Paul, James, or any of the disciples?
Fraud 1 – The disciples stole the body
The first fraud claim that is made often is that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, thus accounting for the empty tomb. The gospel of Matthew reports that Jewish leaders in the first century spread the story that the body was stolen. In 150 AD, Justin Martyr also claims that the Jewish authorities were still pushing around this rumor in his Dialogue with Trypho.
So, did the disciples steal the body? Well, the evidence we have strongly suggests otherwise. First, the disciples of Jesus claimed to have seen the risen Jesus and also truly believed it, which is established in Part I. After Jesus died, the disciples changed from a state of discouragement, grief, and fear, to bold and courageous. They suffered persecution, imprisonment, torture, and they died for the name of Christ. They sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus.
For skeptics claiming a cover up, think about that context and how heavily persecuted the early Christian church was. The Romans even tried to deter the growing movement by publicly executing Christ followers, burning them to death, or throwing them in Nero’s circus where many were martyred in 65 AD.
Not even one of the biggest scandals in American history could stay under wraps – The Watergate scandal. From 1972-73 this scandal took down the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. The real lie of Watergate could only be held up for two weeks according to Charles Colson, a former accomplice to the Watergate scandal. To add to this, the people covering up the president were only facing embarrassment and maybe a prison sentence. Their lives were not at stake, and the longest they could hold the lie up for was a mere two weeks.
The disciples on the other hand, preached the risen Christ for the rest of their lives, decades even. If they were really lying, do you not think one of them would have broken?
To note, this rebuttal isn’t intended to use the sincerity of the disciples beliefs to prove the resurrection. I’m stating that the sincerity of the disciples beliefs, to the point of death, proves that they were not intentionally lying.This points to the fatal flaw in this fraud theory.
Moreover, this argument does not account for Paul’s sudden conversion or the conversion of James.
Fraud 2 – Someone else stole the body
The second fraud theory claimed by skeptics is that someone other than the disciples stole the body.
As stated before, since the disciples sincerely believed they saw the risen Christ, then perhaps someone else stole the body and caused the disciples to believe sincerely. However there are a host of problems with this theory as well.
First, an empty tomb alone cannot explain the conversion of church persecutor, Paul. A rational intelligent Jewish Pharisee would have assumed foul play of some kind, that someone stole the body.
If you were not a Mormon, and someone said that Joseph Smith was buried, and then 3 days later wasn’t in the ground anymore, would you all of a sudden convert to a Mormon or assume he rose from the dead? Of course not. Any rational mind would say someone stole the body.
Paul converted because Jesus truly appeared to him, or at least he sincerely believed he did.
Second, an empty tomb by itself would not have convinced the skeptic James, who according to historical sources, was convinced by an appearance, like Paul.
Thirdly, the empty tomb did not appear to lead any of the followers of Jesus to believe he had risen, except John. In the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene, the mother of Jesus, immediately assumed the body had been stolen upon discovering the empty tomb. The gospels also report that Peter was unconvinced as well. Thomas was also unconvinced until the risen Jesus appeared to him, the other disciples, and Jesus allowed Thomas to physically touch him. The fraud theory fails to account for facts 2, 3, and 4, and requires much more additional theories in order to somehow account for them.
In Part III, I will go into more additional theories made by skeptics to account for the five historical facts. Psychological phenomena like hallucinations, delusions, and visions, are claimed by skeptics to explain the facts, so I will discuss those. I will also go into combination arguments (an argument which holds different theories in one argument) that skeptics have made to account for the facts above.
Whatever view you end up taking on this, all I can say is if you are honest with yourself, search. Because if true, Christianity is of eternal significance to all people.
Merry Christmas everyone and have a happy new year!