Resurrection of Jesus
| Christ died for|
our articles about
|Devil's in the details|
|The pearly gates|
“”You HAVE to believe the resurrection if you're a Christian, or the game's up! So, look — I understand the desire to prove that somehow it actually happened. You don't have to prove it, and there's no possible way you could prove that somebody was dead and came back to life [2000 years ago].
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in roughly 30–33 CE is a central part of the New Testament narrative and believed by almost every living Christian. However, evidence for the resurrection is limited, and there are apparent inaccuracies, contradictions, and absurdities that cast significant doubt on the Bible's claims about the resurrection.
Christian scholars and apologists have attempted to use the historical method to argue for the resurrection on the basis of biblical and extrabiblical evidence. According to non-believing scholars like historian Richard Carrier, however, such efforts are often intellectually bankrupt and unresponsive to criticism.
Importance to Christianity
“”Ok, if Jesus lived, he had to die. Makes sense. But what happened after he died is a whole other story. Jesus 2: This Time... It's Personal.
The resurrection of Jesus is a pivotal one to the Christian faith. Gospel.com writes that the "basis for a Christian's hope lies in one thing: the resurrection of Jesus. Without that resurrection, we would still be trapped in our own sin and weakness."
Apparently, without a human sacrifice, an omnipotent God can't (or won't?) forgive the rest of humanity for something they themselves didn't do.
“”Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Christians traditionally believe Jesus' slow, tortuous death and/or damnation was to atone for the existent sins of humankind and for the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. As most educated Christians believe the story of Adam and Eve is either a parable or a myth, this translates to atoning for a sinful and imperfect human nature. Since he ends up back in heaven anyway, modern freethinkers wonder where there was any sacrifice.
Those who believe in the literal truth of original sin have no problem in believing that God caused all humanity to be cursed for the sin of two people and then decided to torture himself to make up for it.
Did it happen?
“”I admit I'm surprised whenever I encounter a religious scientist. How can a bench-hazed Ph.D, who might in an afternoon deftly puree a colleague's PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read in a two-thousand-year-old chronicle, riddled with internal contradictions, of a meta-Nobel discovery like "Resurrection from the Dead," and say, gee, that sounds convincing? Doesn't the good doctor wonder what the control group looked like?
Let's assume that Jesus Christ existed as a literal, singular, historical person, and he did everything recorded in the Bible up to that point. Even given all this slack, there are real doubts about the accuracy of the Bible's account.
There are many puzzling details about Jesus' crucifixion.
- Jesus' trial and the process leading up to the crucifixion are puzzling to say the least. It is clear some distortion if not outright fabrication of events is going on. Romans held to the belief that the people of whatever country they had taken over were free to worship whatever gods or animals they wished, provided they accepted the sovereignty of Rome and the Emperor. Put simply: The Romans were always very careful to avoid becoming involved in the internal religious/political quarrels of the countries they occupied, unless there was a direct threat to public order or Roman authority. Also the behavior of the Sanhedrin is totally at odds with how the court is known to have operated in the 1st century CE including that a unanimous verdict for conviction resulted in acquittal. Also, it is recorded that Pontius Pilate often overreacted to even the potential for sedition, which hit its zenith with his handling of The Samaritan prophet of 36 CE which resulted in him being called to Rome to explain himself.
- The gospels contradict each other on when the crucifixion took place; the synoptic gospels have Jesus crucified on the day of Passover, while John puts the crucifixion on the day before. It can't be both. Passover is the second holiest of Jewish holidays, a time of forgiveness, making the story that the Jews would condemn a man to death on Passover difficult to believe. Even more problematic is the trial of Jesus which, if the Gospels are credible, violated all of the laws of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish body of judges). Moreover–depending on the translation–the gospels say he was crucified on a cross, whereas Acts 5:30 says he was "slew and hanged on a tree", though this may be referencing the pre-Roman description in Deuteronomy 21. The original untranslated text literally says he was hanged on wood, perhaps implying the wooden cross.
- The biblical account of Jesus' crucifixion states that nails were driven through his hands. In Luke 24:39, a post-resurrection Jesus invites his disciples to inspect the nail holes in his hands and his feet. In John 20:24-27, Jesus invites Thomas to stick his finger into the nail holes in Jesus' hands. Some argue that the weight of a human being hung from a cross with nails driven through his palms would tear through the hands of the crucified. However, it is perfectly possible that the Romans (purveyors of sanitation, education, public health, public order, roads, wine, aqueducts, military strategy centuries ahead of its time, and other good shit in general) mastered the art of tying arms to wood to hold people in place. The crosses also traditionally had a small step jutting out beneath the feet. This would provide both a source of relief for the stress placed on the arms and hands as well as a handy (ahem) spot to nail the feet to.
- Another curiosity is Jesus' nail and spear wounds, considering that the resurrection process presumably would not de-deadify a man only to leave him in his still broken body. Jesus' pending ascension, however, might explain this significant oversight.
- Crucifixion was perhaps the most drawn-out form of execution ever devised, short of Scaphism. The condemned often lingered for days in agonizing pain. When the condemned grew tired, they hung limp, stretching out the diaphragm and making it impossible to inhale. The condemned then pulled themselves up by the nails through their wrists/hands. They could breathe as long as they held themselves up in this fashion. Eventually, somebody would break their legs to put them out of their misery, causing them to collapse and suffocate. The Romans then left the body on the cross for days, allowing scavengers to pick at it as a warning to would-be insurrectionists. The problems:
- After only a few hours on the cross, Jesus cried out, "It is finished" and "died." Was he in such poor health that he died so quickly? Possibly. He did have to drag the cross to Calvary, falling three times, after having been flogged on several occasions, earlier that day; this isn't exactly conducive to being nailed to things.
- According to John 19:31, the Jews asked Pontius Pilate to send a centurion to break the legs of Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him so the three of them could die and be entombed before the Sabbath began. This seems an odd request. Pilate granting their request is equally odd. Since the Romans used crucifixion to intimidate their subjects, isn't it logical that Pilate would say "no" and allow the bodies to remain on their crosses at a time that Jewish law would have required them to be wrapped and entombed? If this was a request normally granted to the Jews on the Sabbath, why would the Romans schedule these crucifixions mere hours before the Sabbath began? Wouldn't they wait until the Sabbath was over and then crucify Jesus and the two thieves?
- The three hours of darkness upon Jesus' death around Passover cannot have happened because Passover is celebrated around the time of a full Moon, whereas solar eclipses only occur at the time of a new Moon. David Nineham, author of The Gospel of St. Mark, notes that similar portents are claimed to have marked the deaths of Julius Caesar and other pagan figures, and also some of the great rabbis. In order to get around the problem that no eclipse occurred at the time of the crucifixion, some Christians claim it was a metaphor instead of an actual historical account. One possible out is that Mark does not actually call it a solar eclipse. Solar eclipses also do not last three hours. And most of all, not a single record from any civilization in the world records such an event. Even if it was localized, surely at least the Romans would have remarked on it.
“”Can you imagine a movement today claiming that a soldier in World War Two rose physically from the dead, but when you asked for proof all they offered you were a mere handful of anonymous religious tracts written in the 1980s? Would it be even remotely reasonable to believe such a thing on so feeble a proof? Well, no.
If the claim were about an alleged resurrection during the mid 20th century people would certainly ask, "Why was this not recorded at the time? Why did newspapers print nothing? Why were there no radio broadcasts about it? Why was nothing shown in cinemas/movie theatres during newsreel?" All of the above would be expected for a major newsworthy event of that time. Even if the promoters of the resurrection concept could provide plausible explanations why everything except the 1980s tracts was hushed up, ordinary people would still be skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Apologetic arguments for the resurrection
Apologetic arguments for the resurrection, such as the minimal facts argument, generally focus on the empty tomb and Jesus's later appearances to His followers. Apologists claim that secular explanations do a poor job at explaining how Christians came to believe in an empty tomb and post-resurrection appearances.
While secular researchers have blown many holes in these apologetic arguments, Christian apologetics has nevertheless outperformed the apologetics for other religions in many areas—though much of this could be attributable to the better funding and organization that Christian apologists enjoy. The limited evidence for the resurrection, though far weaker than claimed by Christian apologists, is nevertheless stronger than the not even wrong evidence often marshalled to support religious groups like the New Age movement. In fact, since there is good evidence that the apostles of Jesus have been preaching the resurrection from very early on, the weak evidence promoted by Christian apologists is nevertheless able to overturn Islam's claim that God chose one of the apostles to stand in for Jesus and that the other apostles knew about it.
Nevertheless, although apologists often insist that Jesus's resurrection is nigh unexplainable without recourse to the miraculous, scholars like atheist historian Richard Carrier have characterized these apologetical attempts as intellectually dishonest and unresponsive to existing responses.
The empty tomb
The idea that the tomb of Jesus was empty appears to be be less well-supported than the other leg of the apologists' claim—that Jesus's followers really did experience some sort of appearance, veridical or not. For instance, although Christian scholar and apologist Gary Habermas believes that the empty tomb is well supported as a historical fact, he does not use it as a "minimal fact" because it is less supported by the scholarly consensus. We also don't know for sure where the empty tomb exactly was; Protestants prefer the Garden Tomb, while Catholics prefer the Holy Sepulchre.
The burial of Jesus
Some atheists claim that Jesus's body would have been left out on the cross or buried in a mass grave by the Romans, but this is not borne out by history—there are examples of executed criminals given a proper burial, such as Jehohanan. Jewish law required executed people to be taken down on the same day (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), so it is plausible that the Sanhedrin, or a member thereof like Joseph of Arimathea, would have helped bury Jesus. However, according to Richard Carrier, since there were special graveyards for the condemned, if Jesus was buried in a private tomb, it would have been only temporary. This means that if He was indeed temporarily buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, Jesus's body could have been taken away from the tomb and reburied prior to the arrival of His disciples three days later.
It is also possible that the story of Joseph of Arimathea is not true at all, potentially meaning that Jesus was never temporarily buried in a identifiable private tomb for the early Christians and their opponents to locate.
The scholarly consensus
According to statistics compiled by Gary Habermas, 75% of Bible scholars believe in the empty tomb. This, however, is flawed—most people who would be interested in becoming Bible scholars are Christians, and some of them are required to sign belief statements in order to be allowed to teach at religious universities; this bias skews measurements of scholarly consensus in the field and also makes consensus a less reliable indicator of truth. We need to be extra skeptical of the scholarly consensus of fields that are skewed in this way—the fact that many people say something does not make it true.
Furthermore, Richard Carrier has argued that Habermas's venture commits the fallacy of the excluded middle, as it does not include the vast array of experts who feel that the evidence is not strong enough to go either way. Carrier also claims that Habermas has been untransparent about where he got the data and notes that Habermas appears to have based his number on a survey of writers publishing on the issue rather than all qualified experts; this further skews the data, since the set of experts who publish on an issue might be more passionate about it than the set of all experts qualified to judge the issue. Finally, Habermas's count does not pay attention to the quality of the arguments, but merely the quantity—yet even Habermas himself admits that many of the pro-empty tomb writings are flawed. This weakens Habermas's appeal to consensus, since the consensus might have formed in opposition to reality.
The Gospel of Matthew states that after Jesus's death and burial, the Jewish authorities went to Pilate to ask him to install guards at the tomb, saying they were afraid that Jesus's disciples might steal His body in order to fulfil his prophecy that he would rise on the third day. (Matthew 27:62-66) Then, when the priests learned that Jesus's tomb was empty, they secretly gave money to the guards to bribe them to claim that the disciples stole the body while they were asleep; Matthew finishes by saying that the false accusation of the priests and bribed guards is "commonly reported among the Jews until this day." (Matthew 28:12-15) If this story is indeed true, then it would make it a lot harder for skeptics to propose alternative explanations for the empty tomb, such as that Jesus's body was stolen by an anonymous grave robber, that it was misplaced, that it, as Mary Magdalene seems to have initially thought, was moved to a different location (John 20:13), or that it never existed at all (since the Jewish polemic that claims the body was stolen presupposes the empty tomb.)
Even on the surface level, there are many problems with the story of the guards. It never appears in any other canonical gospel, and Matthew's author does not state where he got the information about the priests' secret dealings. It is also absurd for the priests to make the guards claim that it was the disciples who stole the body while they were asleep—how would they have known it was the disciples if they were asleep at the time? It would also have been unlikely for the guards to falsely claim they had fallen asleep, since that could have incurred a death sentence for falling asleep on the job.
Furthermore, the story of the guards makes it seem like the priests understood Jesus's prophecies about his resurrection when the apostles did not, which even Christian apologists like William Lane Craig find questionable.
Finally, Matthew's claim that the Jewish authorities immediately began accusing the Christians of stealing the body does not seem to be borne out by the historical evidence. Grave robbing was a capital crime, so one would expect that if there had been an empty tomb, the Jewish authorities would have tried to get the disciples into deep trouble using an accusation of grave robbery. Yet the book of Acts records no such accusations, even though it records the early Christians being routinely harassed by Jewish and Roman authorities, and the earliest gospel, Mark, does not seem to see the need to respond to any such accusations at all. Richard Carrier argues that this is because the accusations of grave robbery in fact only emerged after Mark made up the story of the empty tomb.
The female witnesses
One apologetic argument for the empty tomb is that the early Christians would not have made up women as their witnesses for it, since women's testimony was not as trusted. But as atheist historian Richard Carrier notes, women were in fact trusted in many contexts, and the target audience of early Christianity was not necessarily the entirety of the rather patriarchal society at that time—Christianity initially converted more women than men, and the early church was supported by generous, wealthy female members. Thus, even if it were true that women's testimony was as distrusted as apologists say it was, it is still plausible that believers in a faith that had been lambasting the political and religious establishment from the very beginning might have chosen to not play by the rules of the establishment and make up female witnesses anyway.
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, S02E01, The Bible - Fact or Fiction
- Carrier, Richard (23 June 2020). "N.T. Wright Demonstrates the Bankruptcy of Christian Apologetics in Under Nine Minutes".
- Reverend Kenny Nailimup THE TRIAL THAT NEVER TOOK PLACE
- Maimonides, Laws of Sanhedrin, 9:1
- Jewish Antiquities 18.85-87.
- John 19:30
- The case against the historicity of Jesus
- Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (6th ed., 2006)
- Carrier, Richard (10 August 2016). "Dating the Corinthian Creed".
- "What Actually Happened to Īsā (Jesus)?".
- Dickens, Luke (Spring 2017). "A Q&A with Gary Habermas".
- Carrier, Richard (9 August 2001). "Jewish Law, the Burial of Jesus, and the Third Day".
- Carrier, Richard (23 November 2013). "Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix".
- Lowder, Jeffrey Jay (1995). "The Contemporary Debate on the Resurrection". Internet Infidels.
- Carrier, Richard (23 February 2020). "Why Did Mark Invent an Empty Tomb?".
- Carrier, Richard (2006). "11. Did No One Trust Women". Internet Infidels.