Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Trying to get around the Resurrection
While Jesus’ life, claims, and miraculous ministry set him far apart from all other human beings, it is his resurrection more than anything else that stamps him as the one and only Son of God. But, precisely because it sets Jesus apart as unique and requires an affirmation of the supernatural within history, it cannot be allowed by scholars with a commitment to naturalism. It must, therefore, be explained away.
For the last two hundred years naturalistic scholars have attempted to accomplish this by proposing a number of theories. Some have argued that Jesus never really died. He simply looked dead and then revived while in the tomb. Others have argued that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and made the story of his resurrection up. Others have argued that the disciples were simply hallucinating when they thought they saw Jesus, while still others have argued that the idea of the resurrection was simply a myth that evolved over time among Jesus’ followers.
Variations on these theories, especially the last one, are still advocated by various naturalistic scholars today. But no theory, past or present, has received anything like the attention J. D. Crossan’s theory is now receiving. According to Crossan, Jesus died by crucifixion as a common criminal and his corpse received the treatment common criminals received in the ancient Roman world. If it was buried at all, Crossan argues, it would have been in a shallow mass grave. And, in all probability, it was then quickly dug up and eaten by the wild dogs that hovered around such burial cites.
According to Crossan, the original followers of Jesus “knew almost nothing whatsoever about the details of his crucifixion, death, or burial” (1). The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, therefore, are entirely fabricated. Jesus’ followers simply could not accept that their master had gone the way of common criminals, and thus they began to recreate history in their own minds.
For example, the story of Jesus being buried in the wealthy tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the powerful council of the Sanhedrin, is entirely a figment of Mark’s imagination, according to Crossan. Mark had to invent someone who would have a) wanted to see Jesus buried properly (hence he is portrayed as a believer); and b) had access to Pilate to make a special request for how a crucified body would be disposed of (hence he is portrayed as an influential member of the Sanhedrin).
The stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, according to Crossan, are equally fictitious. As Crossan says in Time, they are the result of “latter-day wishful thinking” on the part of Christians. (2) Christians made up history the way they wished it had gone, instead of the way it actually occurred.
Could the early Christians have made this story up?
There are a number of serious problems with Crossan’s theory, and all theories like it. For starters, the very idea that any group of people (let alone first century Jews) could so thoroughly recreate recent history out of thin air and then make themselves believe it, is extremely difficult to accept. According to Crossan’s theory, none of the initial followers of Jesus believed he rose from the dead. Then, a few decades later, all of his followers believed this. Is this really credible? Ask yourself, are large groups of people ever prone to this sort of intense, self-delusional fabricating—to the extent that they’d completely recreate recent history? Insane individuals, maybe. But large groups of ordinary people? Impossible!
And are we really to believe that there were not at least some psychologically balanced people within this first century group who would have protested against this novel fabrication? Wouldn’t someone have pointed out that their group never used to talk about Jesus’ supposed resurrection? Wouldn’t someone have pointed out that this story simply was not true? Indeed, wouldn’t all of the original disciples have done this, if in fact the resurrection hadn’t occurred?
And even if (for the sake of argument) no one within the movement would have done this, wouldn’t there have been many outside this group who would have been more than happy to point this out? We know, after all, that there were a great many people in high places who were strongly opposed to the Christian movement from the start. Couldn’t these opponents have very easily blown apart the whole thing—which they wanted to do—by simply exposing the fact that this message about the resurrection was a tall tale that even the Christians themselves hadn’t believed until recently? But this objection was never raised!
What is more, couldn’t these opponents have easily falsified this “new” Christian story? Consider that these Christians were talking about events that had transpired only a few decades ago (many of their opponents had been around then), and not so very far away (Jerusalem). Consider further that these authors were dropping some pretty heavyweight names in their (supposedly) fictitious accounts like Pilate, a governor; Ciaphas, a high priest; and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. Couldn’t these opponents, therefore, have easily disproved these accounts?
Of course they could have, and would have, if the story had been made up, as Crossan argues. But it clearly wasn’t, so they obviously couldn’t.
Finally, Crossan’s proposal becomes even less plausible when we consider that the Gospels weren’t the first documents to claim that Jesus rose from the dead. We find the apostle Paul saying the same thing—and talking about it as though it were an already established Christian teaching—some ten to twenty years before the Gospels were even written (1 Cor. 15:1–8)! If maintaining that a significant group of Jews rewrote history and believed it forty years after the fact is difficult, holding that they did so well before 50 A.D. is virtually impossible.
Joseph of Arimathea
Many of the details of Crossan’s conjecture are also problematic. For example, one has to seriously question the plausibility of the suggestion that Mark simply made up the figure of Joseph of Arimathea. Why this particular name? Why this particular insignificant village? And, as I intimated above, if Mark was going to fabricate a person, would he have fabricated such an overtly public figure as one of the seventy-one leaders who served on the Sanhedrin? This is altogether unlikely.
Knowledge about who served on the Sanhedrin was common in Jewish circles, so fabricating such a person would make exposing his narrative as a lie very easy to do. It would be no different than someone today trying to circulate an incredible story about a member of our Supreme Court a few decades ago. Such a story could easily be falsified.
Looking at all the evidence
As insurmountable as these difficulties are, they are not the main problem with Crossan’s theory. The major problem with Crossan’s conjecture, and all conjectures like it, is that it simply flies directly in the face of the evidence. The evidence for the historicity of the resurrection, if examined without foregone conclusions about what could and could not have happened, is extremely good. In other words, if you don’t start with the assumption that the evidence is all lying, you find that the evidence is remarkably compelling. Indeed, many historians and New Testament scholars who are not committed to strictly naturalistic presuppositions (viz. who do not believe the resurrection is impossible) have argued that the historical evidence for the resurrection is at least as strong as what we have for any other documented event in ancient history.
Now, I personally have never found the case for the resurrection covered in the popular media, though I have found the views of scholars who deny it covered quite thoroughly. In the interest of being fully informed on the subject, then, we need to have at least an overview of this side of the story as well. (3) I shall, therefore, briefly review two groups of arguments that establish the historicity of the resurrection. The first is taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the second from the four Gospel accounts.
1 Corinthians 15 and the Resurrection
In his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul mentions that, after having been “buried” for three days, Christ appeared to Peter, the Twelve, to “more than five hundred of the brothers…most of whom are still living,” to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:3–8). There are four arguments that arise from this passage that render the conclusion that this report is based on historical fact—the fact of the resurrection—unavoidable.
Could the Resurrection be a Myth?
This letter is written a mere twenty years after Jesus had died. That is, by customary historical standards, very close to the event. This itself rules out the possibility that the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a complete myth, for myths take long periods of time to develop, even in environments which are conducive to them. But in this case we’re dealing with an orthodox Jew (Paul) who is advocating something that is antithetical to his foundational Jewish beliefs. If Paul were to invent a myth, this would not have been it!
While most Jews believed there would be a general resurrection of the dead on the judgment day, they had no concept of one man rising all by himself. And they certainly were not predisposed toward seeing this, or any other miracle, as verifying that this man was somehow the embodiment of God! But this is precisely what Paul is teaching. Hence, wherever Paul got the notion that Jesus Christ is proven to be the Son of God by rising from the dead (Rom. 1:3–4), he didn’t get it as a myth that just naturally evolved in his orthodox Jewish mind.
The Antiquity of 1 Corinthians 15
Paul incidentally mentions that he had “received” and “passed on” this information. These terms, all scholars recognize, were the standard terms used within Judaism for the handing down of sacred authoritative tradition. It was, therefore, not to be tampered with. Jews were very strict about this.
Scholars are also in agreement that this passage has a rhythmic credal structure to it which confirms that this was authoritative sacred information Paul was passing on. Indeed, the Corinthians themselves had already previously received it, which is why Paul says “I passed on to you” rather than “I’m now passing onto you.”
The point is, the material Paul is giving here is not only early—within twenty years of the event—it is very early! In twenty years it had already become part of the established creed of the Church. It has to therefore significantly pre-date Paul’s writing. Paul himself doesn’t tell us when he “received” this tradition, but it certainly must have been by the time he finished his fifteen day visit with Peter and James three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18–19). And this pushes this credal material back to within a few years after Jesus death.
This forces on us a very interesting question. If this report of the empty tomb and resurrection appearances isn’t rooted solidly in history, what explains this report? If, in fact, Jesus never rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, how is one to explain the indisputable fact that, almost immediately after his death, his followers thought Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them? There is no easy question to this answer.
Could Paul Have Made This Report Up?
Some liberal scholars have attempted to avoid the historical implications of Paul’s report here by arguing that Paul simply made up the report and perhaps intentionally structured it to make it look like he was passing on traditional material. Paul, in other words, was simply being deceptive. Mack and Crossan argue along these lines.
In response, one has to first ask why Paul would do this. He had absolutely no motive to lie. Mack and Crossan try to maintain that Paul was here trying to establish his apostolic authority, but aside from the fact that Paul here looks like he’s minimizing his authority—he says he is “the least of all the apostles” and does “not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9)—the presumed motive explains nothing about the actual content of the report.
What is more, Paul here says that if this report he’s passing on is not true, he and the others who are preaching it are “false witnesses about God” (1 Cor. 15:15), a sin which for Jews was equivalent to blasphemy. So, even if Paul had had a motive to lie, it’s highly doubtful that he would have been capable of lying about this. Certainly everything else we learn about Paul from his letters shows him to be a sincere, self-sacrificing, godly man, hardly the type who would go about intentionally blaspheming.
But most significantly, the fact that most of these eyewitnesses Paul mentions in this report were still alive and well known in the early Church when Paul passed on this report completely rules out the possibility that we are here dealing with deception. If, as Crossan, Mack, and several others suggest, Paul and his congregations were alone among the early Christians in thinking that Jesus rose from the dead, one wonders what on earth he was thinking when he started dropping names like Peter and James in his report. And one wonders why he would invite his audience to cross-check his report that more than five hundred saw Christ at the same time (which is what Paul is doing when he adds, “most of whom are still alive”).
One also has to wonder how this supposed major difference between Paul and the other Church leaders was missed when Paul met with them on at least two occasions (Gal. 1:18–19, 2:1–10). On this latter occasion Paul went up to Jerusalem for the expressed purpose of making sure his teaching was the same as other Church leaders, and they ended up giving him “the right hand of fellowship” (2:9). Such a situation is unthinkable if, as these scholars contend, these other church leaders didn’t yet believe in the resurrection!
Not only this, but everything we know about the early Church indicates that it wasn’t only Paul who traveled far and wide in his missionary endeavors. From both Paul’s letters and from the book of Acts, we get the picture that most of the early Church leaders traveled far and wide among the various Christian congregations (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:12, 9:5). The early Church, in other words, was networked together in a rather tight fashion. Hence, the conjecture of Crossan, Mack, and others that Paul and his congregations held to a very different view of Jesus than the other followers of Jesus, and that they alone believed in the resurrection, must be judged as being utterly untenable.
This again poses an interesting, and very important, question for us: If the tomb of Jesus wasn’t in fact empty, and if Jesus hadn’t in fact risen from the dead, what explains the fact that right after his death we find all of his followers sincerely thinking his tomb was empty and believing that he rose from the dead—and willing to lay their lives on the line for this conviction?
Could It All Be Mass Hallucination?
One might, of course, argue that Paul’s report is genuine: the people who he reports seeing Jesus did see something they thought was Jesus. But, in fact, it was simply a case of mass hallucination. A number of liberal scholars today lean in this direction. Unfortunately for this theory, however, both 1 Corinthians 15 and the Gospel accounts completely rule out this avenue of escape.
The sheer diversity of witnesses that Paul mentions, and the diverse times that Christ appeared to them, rules out the possibility that we are dealing here with some sort of mass hallucination. The fact that Paul mentions Christ “being buried” (which assumes he became “un-buried”) also rules out hallucination, for it means that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The hallucination theory doesn’t even address this. Even if the disciples were hallucinating, wouldn’t someone (at least their opponents!) have thought to check out his tomb?
And, finally, the Gospel accounts portray the risen Lord in terms that render the hallucination theory impossible. Among other things, Jesus in these accounts is portrayed as being distinctly recognizable to his followers. He is seen as being, in some sense, physically present to his followers. And he is said to have spent a good amount of time, on a number of occasions, fellowshipping with, and even eating with, his followers. This is hardly what you’d expect from a hallucination.
So the question that needs to again be asked is this: How do we explain the fact that all of these people who knew the real historical Jesus (Peter, James [his brother!], the apostles, and the five hundred) believed his tomb was empty and believed they repeatedly saw the resurrected Lord in a physical way? One explanation which easily accounts for all the evidence is to simply admit that, as a matter of fact, Jesus rose from the dead, left his tomb, and appeared to these people just as the report says.
If this explanation is thrown out, however, what other explanation is one to embrace? It’s all myth? Not enough time, and wrong culture. Paul was deceptive? No motive, and totally out of character. Mass hallucination? Too many people, too many appearances, and an empty tomb. Eaten by wild dogs? How does this explain anything?
The evidence for this miracle of all miracles, we see, is stubborn. It will not easily be explained away. This is not good news to the scholar committed to exclusively naturalistic explanations. And when we consider the evidence for the resurrection from the Gospels, the news for them gets significantly worse.
The Gospel accounts of the Resurrection
We frequently read about contemporary scholars who dismiss out of hand the Gospels as legendary, and who therefore dismiss out of hand their accounts that Jesus rose from the dead. To be truly informed, however, you need to know that there is another side to this story. Many scholars find many reasons for maintaining, on a strictly historical basis, the integrity and accuracy of these accounts. I will conclude this essay by examining the reasons why many scholars find the Gospels’ resurrection accounts to be solidly rooted in actual history.
The Independence of the Five Accounts
In history, as in a court of law, the more witnesses you have for an event, the more certain your knowledge can be about that event. For most events in history we have to rely on single sources, and usually these sources are quite far removed from the event being reported. Most of our knowledge about Alexander the Great, for example, comes from a single source written some four hundred years after his life.
Still, since people do not usually systematically lie, historians are inclined to trust such sources. If they did not do this our ancient history books would be a great deal thinner. We’d have to claim to know very little about most of the major figures in ancient history. In those rare instances when we find more than one source of information, and in those even rarer instances when these various sources are close to the events they are reporting, historians generally have a field day.
All of this makes the liberals’ skepticism regarding the resurrection puzzling, or perhaps suspicious. For here we have an almost unparalleled collection of diverse witnesses writing very close to the events they are recording. We’ve already examined the testimony of Paul and found it forceful. But we need to now consider that, on top of this, we have the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are, even on a liberal dating, writing relatively close to the event—forty or fifty years at the outside. And they are all writing independent of one another.
Scholars, both liberal and conservative, frequently argue that Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel when they each composed their own, for significant portions of their Gospels parallel Mark’s Gospel in an almost verbatim fashion. This may or may not be correct. But what’s important to realize is that this theory, even if it is correct, has absolutely no bearing on our estimation of their various resurrection accounts. For on this score, as all scholars recognize, the various authors have almost nothing in common!
Not only this, but each of these accounts differs significantly from Paul’s account. According to Crossan, Mack, and others, the followers of Jesus outside of Paul’s congregations didn’t believe in the resurrection until around the 70s A.D. when (according to their dating) the Gospel accounts began to be written. And, they further argue, this reveals that the view of the resurrection held by Paul’s congregations was influencing these other congregations. But if this were the case, wouldn’t you expect the Gospel accounts to follow, at least in outline, Paul’s account? But they don’t! They are clearly not only independent of one another: they are quite independent from Paul as well.
What each of these accounts, including Paul’s, do have in common is their claim that Jesus left his tomb after being dead for two nights and a day and then appeared to various disciples at various times and places. If we stick with standard historical criteria, this claim, coming from five accounts that obviously did not borrow from one another, and written close to the event they’re recording, must be taken very seriously.
Do the Resurrection accounts contradict each other?
In fact, so obvious are the differences between the resurrection accounts that at this point many liberal scholars seize upon a different tactic to discredit these accounts and argue that they can’t be believed because they are contradictory. In his book, The Case Against Christianity, for example, Michael Martin says:
In Matthew, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived toward dawn at the tomb there is a rock in front of it…In Mark, the women arrive at the tomb at sunrise and the stone had been rolled back…In Matthew, an angel is sitting on the rock outside the tomb…in Mark a youth is inside the tomb…In Luke, two men are inside…In Matthew, the women present at the tomb are Mary Magdalene and the other Mary…In Mark, the women present at the tomb are the two Marys and Salome…In Luke, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and other women are present…According to John, only Mary Magdalene came to the tomb when it was still dark, thus contradicting the three other Gospels. (4)
For this reason, Martin concludes, the Gospel accounts of Jesus rising from the dead cannot be trusted.
Now these frequently cited discrepancies have been accounted for numerous times throughout Church history (which makes one wonder why they keep being put forth as if they were “new” discoveries). If you read Matthew closely, for example, you will see that he simply does not say that the tomb was still enclosed when the women arrived. He does not, therefore, contradict the other accounts which report that the stone was already rolled away when the women arrived. As to the supposedly different times the women went to the tomb, one is hard pressed to make a hard and fast distinction between the twilight of dawn and early sunrise. Trying to make a significant contradiction out of such a minor difference is a tactic of desperation.
As for the different locations and varying number of the angels reported, no author ever denies what another affirms. The accounts are different, but not contradictory. And, in fact, the differences between the accounts are exactly what one should expect from a story that is being retold from the different perspectives of the people present. So too with the slightly different list of names of the women present at the tomb. No author denies what another affirms, and none of the authors claims to provide an exhaustive list. Indeed, John’s account which mentions only Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb presupposes that there were other women present. For when she reports to the disciples what has occurred, she mistakenly conjectures, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:2). The first person plural indicates that there were other women present with Mary, though John has chosen to focus his narrative only on her. In any case, Martin is simply wrong when he claims that “according to John only Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.” John never says that.
These supposed discrepancies, then, are no greater than what you’d expect to find surrounding an event witnessed by a number of different people and reported from a number of different perspectives. Think of the numerous, apparently conflicting, eyewitnesses accounts we have on the assassination of John F. Kennedy—and this event was recorded on camera! The accounts of this tragic event are perhaps difficult to harmonize, but no one thinks of conjecturing on this basis that perhaps J. F. K. wasn’t assassinated at all!
Yet, this is exactly what certain liberal New Testament critics do to the Gospels’ resurrection accounts. Because there are apparently conflicting reports (which aren’t very difficult to harmonize), they want to assume that what they are reporting didn’t happen. One suspects that if the reports didn’t conflict with each other, these scholars would arrive at the exact same conclusion—on the basis that the various testimonies aren’t independent! In any case, this skeptical approach cannot be said to constitute unbiased historical investigation.
The most significant thing about the supposed discrepancies of the Gospels is what they tell us about these four accounts: namely, that they are all independent of one another. And this makes what they have in common all the more credible. For, as was said, each account agrees on the central facts that the tomb of Jesus was empty and, with the possible exception of Mark, that Jesus appeared to certain disciples at various times and places. (5) And all of this agreed upon material, we see, is in basic accord with what Paul reported about Jesus some ten to twenty years earlier.
It is not, then, just one story of Jesus’ resurrection that has to be explained away as fabrication. It is five. And if, as we have already seen, it is difficult to believe that one version of this story could have been concocted and believed by a group of people who previously knew it wasn’t true, what are we to make of any theory that would require us to believe that this happened on five occasions?
The Presence of Women
There are many other considerations that lend credibility to the Bible’s four Gospel accounts of the resurrection. Perhaps the most surprising of these is the fact that all the accounts agree that it was women who first found the tomb empty. This may mean little to us in our day, but in first century Jewish society women were, quite frankly, often regarded as being incurable talebearers. They weren’t in most circumstances even allowed to testify in court!
No wonder, then, that the male disciples didn’t believe them when the women first brought them their report that the tomb was empty (Luke 24:11). No wonder, also, that Paul does not include women in his list of people to whom the Lord appeared (1 Cor. 15). Since this report was originally circulated in a Jewish environment before it was passed on to Paul, as we’ve seen, the women’s testimony would have been seen as being irrelevant, if not damaging, to the report. Hence they are deleted from the earliest church creed about the event.
This inculcated sexism may (and should) aggravate us today. But the effect it has on the Gospel accounts which do include women—as playing a central role in the whole story—is to greatly increase their credibility. If the Gospel stories were fabricated, as certain scholars in the media today suggest, the last thing these fabricators would have wanted to put in their story was that it was women who first discovered that the tomb of Jesus was empty, and (in the case of Matthew and John) that it was to women that Jesus first appeared! The fact that they did report it this way, therefore, strongly implies that these accounts are not fabrications. The only motive these various authors could have had for telling their story like they did is because that was how the story actually unfolded.
Other Indications of Historical Reliability
There are a host of other interesting features about the Gospels’ resurrection accounts that, in the minds of many scholars, further substantiates their reliability. Some of these are the following:
- The Gospel accounts are full of incidental details that do not contribute to the over all story line. Such detail is generally considered by historians (and lawyers) to be evidence of an eyewitness account (or at least an account that is informed by an eyewitness). John, for example, mentions that he outran Peter when they raced to the tomb and that he “bent over and looked in” and saw “strips of linen lying there” as well as a burial cloth “folded up by itself, separate from the linen,” but he did not himself go in. Then, he adds, Peter arrived and went into the tomb (John 20:4–8). Now there is no clear reason why these details are added to the narrative: they add absolutely nothing to the point of the whole story. Indeed, they are rather unexpected. Who, after all, would have intentionally fabricated an account that suggested that Jesus was raised in the nude? Their presence in the account can only be because, as a matter of fact, that was just how the event occurred.
- John’s incidental reference to having to “bend over” to look inside the tomb is interesting for another reason as well. The only kinds of tombs in the Greco-Roman world that required bending over to enter were acrosolia or bench tombs which were rare in the ancient world, being reserved for wealthy prominent people. This squares precisely with the Gospels’ accounts that Jesus occupied a tomb purchased by a wealthy and prominent member of the Sanhedrin. It’s also worth noting that archaeologists have discovered several other acrosolia tombs near the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb.
- All of the Gospel accounts are remarkable restrained, sober, and realistic. One has only to compare them to legendary writings of the time—including apocryphal accounts of the resurrection that would arise in the next few centuries—to prove for themselves that these accounts are of a very different sort.
- There is no attempt in these accounts to “theologize” the resurrection event. That is to say, these accounts simply report what happened but do not take the time to try to explain much. For example, in John’s account Mary Magdalene tries to embrace Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus, however, tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father” (John 20:17). This is an unexpected and odd reaction on the part of Jesus that is simply left unexplained. Fabricated accounts, and later legendary accounts, leave nothing unexplained.
- Relatedly, these accounts lack many features that one would expect if they were simply legendary accounts. When legendary accounts are written, they customarily go out of their way to answer the question, “How do you know this is true?” For example, in the third century work entitled The Protevangelium of James, the author is concerned to portray Mary as a virgin after she gives birth to Christ. So, conveniently enough, there is a midwife present who delivers Christ and testifies to this fact. And, conveniently enough, there is another woman present who physically checks Mary and confirms the midwife’s story! What’s more, shortly thereafter, Joseph sees all of creation stand still momentarily—birds freeze in mid-air, brooks stop flowing, etc.—to further confirm the point of the story. Such is the stuff that legends are made out of.
But the Gospel’s lack such obvious (and outrageous) apologetic motifs. If they were apologetic legends, we might perhaps expect some confirming word of Joseph of Arimathea, some mention of a thorough investigation of the tomb and the surrounding area, some story of the guards being converted, or some cosmic sign from heaven verifying the whole thing. Instead, our accounts have women finding an empty tomb, and in a state of confusion and fear, telling this to Jesus’ cowardly male followers who are just as puzzled by the whole thing. And then we have Matthew’s totally unexpected admonition that some, even after seeing the resurrected Lord, still doubted (Matt. 28:17). And (typically) he doesn’t tell us why they doubted. This hardly helps “sell” the whole story, if “selling” a story they made up rather than reporting a story that actually occurred was what these authors were up to.
The heart of the issue
Getting around the historical evidence for the resurrection, we see, is no easy matter. The conjectural, complex, and highly improbable nature of those theories that try to do so simply confirms this fact. Were these five accounts about any other event that didn’t require suspending our judgments about what can and cannot happen in the natural world, no historian would ever doubt them. Rarely, if ever, is the available data about a ancient historical event so numerous, so close to the event, and so replete with internal evidence of reliability.
And this simply confirms, once again, our previous point that the basis for denying the resurrection, and the uniqueness of Christ in general, is not historical evidence. It is, rather, a preconceived and highly arbitrary assumption about the nature of the world. If you rule out the possibility that the Paul and the Gospels are telling the truth from the start, then of course you have to come up with another explanation. But you must do so in spite of, not because of, the historical evidence. Get rid of this assumption, and the evidence can be allowed to speak for itself.
When an ordinary person first reads in their newspaper or learns from the T.V. of a chorus of reputable liberal scholars who have “discovered” that the resurrection is a fable, they can easily be impressed. “Surely there must be some new hard and fast evidence they are going on,” they may think. Once all the facts are in, however, the chorus doesn’t sound nearly as impressive.
(1) J. D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 145.
(2) J. D. Crossan, Time, January 10, 1994.
(3) For more in depth treatments of the resurrection, see W. Craig, The Son Rises (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), G. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), G. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975). And for a refutation of Crossan and Mack’s explanation for the resurrection, see G. Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God? (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint, 1995), ch. 13.
(4) M. Martin, The Case Against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 78–79.
(5) The ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9–20) which records Jesus’ appearance to the disciples, is disputed.
* This essay has been adopted from G. Boyd and Paul Eddy, Lord or Legend? (Baker, 2007). One of the standard tests historians put to ancient documents to assess their veracity is self-consistency. Generally speaking, fabricated accounts tend to include more inconsistencies than truthful accounts. Hence, the absence of inner contradictions contributes to a positive…
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