This web page is not intended to be a statement of my personal faith, or an argument against the validity of non-Christian religions, or absolute, irrefutable proof of Christ's resurrection. To accept the idea that Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected on the third day after His death is to accept what is impossible in the natural sense, and as such will always require a large degree of faith in that which violates all natural laws and human logic.
Rather, what I am attempting to do with this page is to hopefully enlighten people to some accepted historical facts (that is, facts which are agreed upon by even non-Christian historians) surrounding the resurrection and early Christianity, and provide arguments against many of the prevailing anti-Christian theories about 'what really happened'.
I plan on using some assumptions on which I will base my arguments. These are not statements of faith, but widely accepted historical facts.
1) That Jesus Christ actually lived around 2000 years ago. This may seem obvious even to the non-believer, but some have claimed that Christ was nothing more than a fictional character created by the writers of the Gospels. This argument apparently did not even exist until the late 19th Century, and is based on no real evidence. In fact, there are records of the existence of Christ in many early non-Christian writings, including Roman historians Flavius Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Cornelius Tacitus, all of whom wrote of Christ within 100 years of the crucifixion. Also, 2nd century writer Lucian of Somosata, in his book 'The Passing Peregrinus' wrote of Christ as 'the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.' In all, there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there is for any other person of His day or earlier.
2) That the resurrection claimed by Christians is a bodily resurrection and not a case of Christ appearing in a non-physical spiritual body. Although a small percentage of Christians DO claim that Christ's appearances after His death were in non-physical form, this is not the claim made by the Bible, and, therefore, true Christianity.
3) That many 1st Century followers of Christ were persecuted, and even murdered, for their beliefs. The Emperor Nero who ruled the Roman Empire from 54-68 A.D. was notorious for his persecution of Christians. While the exact fates of some of Christ's early disciples has been debated, it is generally agreed that Stefan was stoned to death, James was beaten to death, Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded. Fourth Century historian Eusebius stated that Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, James the Just, James the Greater, Bartholomew, Andrew, Thomas, Jude, Matthias, Barnabas, and Paul were all murdered for their beliefs. And all of the Roman historians I noted in statement 1 wrote of the persecution of Christians. According to Legal scholar Dr. Simon Greenleaf, founder of the Harvard Law School: "Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, [early Christians received] contempt, opposition... and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate, and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only [continued] their work with increased vigor and resolution... The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of like heroic constancy, patience, and unblenching courage... If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error. From these [considerations] there is no escape but in the perfect conviction and admission that they were good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed...and well knew to be true." [Simon Greenleaf, The Testimony of the Evangelists (Kregel, 1995-reprint from 1847 edition), pp. 31-32.]
4) That the tomb in which Jesus was placed was found empty soon after His death. If the disciples made the claim of Jesus' bodily resurrection without the evidence of an empty tomb to back it up, the Romans and Pharisees could easily opened the tomb and removed Jesus' body for all to see. Christianity would not have lasted even a few days had Jesus' body been available for display. The early arguments against the resurrection seemed to concede the point that Jesus' body was not in the tomb.
Most common arguments
There are many arguments people use to explain how Christ was not truly resurrected while still explaining the claims made by the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The first is that the authors of the Gospels knowingly lied about the resurrection, that they knew that Christ had stayed dead, but fabricated the stories in order to keep the Christian faith alive.
The second is that the authors of the Gospels fully believed what they were saying, but were mistaken about what they actually saw, either due to deception or hallucination, or a combination of the two.
The third is that the authors of the Gospels were not really the Apostles or eyewitnesses to the events of that time, but later scribes who based the Gospels on various handed-down (and therefore embellished) accounts which may or may not have started with the actual Apostles.
Other arguments include a mixture of two, or sometimes all three, of these arguments. However, I will deal with each argument separately.
1) The idea that the authors intentionally lied. The main problem with this theory is the lack of a logical motive for such a lie. If Christ was not resurrected, and the authors knew this, then why would they willingly subject themselves to such persecution in the name of someone that they knew offered no hope of salvation to themselves or anyone else? In the words of Paul, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (1 Corinthians 15:14). The Apostles risked their lives, even gave their lives in most cases, to preach the word of God to others in order to bring them hope of eternal life. If what they preached was a lie, then they were essentially condemning themselves and those they preached to. If the Apostles genuinely cared about these people, why would they knowingly give them false hope? If they didn't care about these people, why would they risk their own lives in order to spread the word to them? If their writings in the NT were nothing but lies, they would have shown some hesitation or regret, yet we see nothing but hope and optimism in these writings.
2) The idea that the authors were mistaken. Most who subscribe to this belief will say that the words the authors attributed to Jesus before His death were basically what Jesus said, and that any 'miracles' Jesus performed were either simple magic tricks, hypnosis, legends that the authors decided to claim being witness to, or coincidences blown way out of proportion. Some will claim that Jesus intentionally deceived them, and others will claim that Jesus was a simple philosopher and that, for some reason, His followers decided that He was actually God. Of course, any claims about who Jesus was BEFORE His death are subject to what happened to Jesus AFTER His death. Had Jesus not been resurrected, then the idea that He was a magician or philosopher might be valid. If Christ was resurrected, then He was certainly more than this.
How could the authors of the Gospels mistakenly believe that Christ died and was resurrected?
There are basically two theories for this. The first is that someone (usually Joseph of Arimathea) removed the body from the tomb and put it somewhere else. Then, when the Apostles heard that Christ's body was missing, assumed He had been resurrected and started hallucinating that Christ was alive among them.
There are many problems with the Hallucination theory. The New Testament claims that Jesus appeared to the Apostles as a group, and later to a group of 500, and also that He spoke to them at length. Group hallucinations are very rare, and when they do occur, they tend to be very simple in nature, nothing like what is described in the Gospels. Of course, some claim that the mass hallucinations never really happened, that only one or two disciples actually saw the hallucination and later claims of all Apostles and others seeing Jesus were embellishments. However, the mass appearances of Jesus are recorded in what is widely believed to be the EARLIEST of the New Testament Documents, the First book of Corinthians, written no more than 10-15 years after the resurrection by most estimates. In this book, Paul writes, "he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:5-6). Mentioning that most of the 500 who saw Jesus are still alive not only proves an early date for this writing, but also confirms the validity of this sighting, since anyone doubting this at the time Paul wrote these words could have easily spoken with the many remaining witnesses. Such a claim would not have been made by Paul had there not been hundreds of people willing to confirm this claim. Could all of these people been so convinced by a simple trick of the imagination, that they would stand up to priests, governors, even the Roman Emperor himself? What they saw had to have been enormously convincing to explain such a personality transformation in these people. A simple 'empty tomb' by itself would not have been enough to give rise to speculations of resurrection. An empty tomb, without a ressurected Jesus to accompany it, would have been credited to someone stealing his body. For example, when Mary initially finds the tomb empty, she tells some angels (not knowing they are angels) "they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." (John 20:13)
Even non-Christian scholars agree that a hallucination could not account for what happened to the apostles. According to Jewish scholar Dr. Pinchas Lipide: "When this frightened band of apostles suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society...Then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation." [Pinchas Lipide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Fortress Press, 1988), p. 125]
And how, exactly, do we explain Paul's conversion from a persecutor of Christians to someone willing to die for Christ? His conversion came after encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. Many write this encounter off as a simple hallucination on Paul's part, but it is hard to believe that Paul, who was so adamantly opposed to Christianity, would be so duped by a trick of the imagination, that he would give up everything he had, willingly jump into a group of which he personally had killed a few members, and eventually go to his own death for them (he was beheaded under Emperor Nero in 67 AD).
The second theory is that Christ never really died on the cross, but was taken down in a state of near-death, woke up in the tomb on Easter Sunday, then passed Himself off to his disciples as being resurrected, later to crawl off and die from complications from His injuries, or flee to another country where He lived the rest of His life.
The idea that Christ didn't fully die on the cross (known as the 'Swoon Theory') is one of the most popular theories, though, in light of the evidence, is probably the most ridiculous. Take a look at what was done to Christ according to the Gospels: He was whipped, had His head pierced by a crown of thorns, was forced to carry a heavy wooden cross a great distance, was nailed to the cross through His wrists and feet, and, after it was apparent that He was dead, was stabbed in the chest with a spear, whereby 'came there out blood and water' (John 19:34), suggesting that his lungs (which generally filled with fluid during a crucifixion) had been pierced, which would have made it impossible, had Christ been alive before the spear was thrust in, to breathe. Christ was then wrapped head-to-toe in linen and then sealed in a small cave. Now, according to the Swoon Theory, Christ came to on Sunday after having been deprived of food and water for about 2 full days, then got up and rolled away the stone from the cave entrance, a stone it normally took 2 people to move, using hands whose wrists had had nails driven through them a few days earlier, then walked on feet which had also had nails driven through them, many miles to find His disciples. Yeah, right. Also, the Bible teaches that, in Heaven, our bodies will be like the body in which Jesus was resurrected (Philippians 3:21). Had Jesus appeared to them in the pained, pathetic condition He would naturally have been in three days after suffering such torture, how could early Christians have been convinced to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday our bodies will be like the one He had? Another problem with this theory is the idea that the Roman guards mistakenly brought a still-living man down from the cross. Such a mistake, according to Roman law, would be punishable by death for the guards. No guards would have been so careless.
Lately, there has been a story about a document being found which proves the 'swoon theory', saying that Jesus fled to France with Mary Magdelene. One story is that this document was found among the Dead Sea scrolls, another that it was found in a church somewhere. The fact is that no such document has been found. And if we were to come across such a document, we would have to subject it to scrutiny to determine who wrote it and when, and whether the author could have been someone 'in the know'. Until such a document is discovered and subjected to this scrutiny, anyone who favors this document over the Biblical texts, which have been subjected to (and passed) such scrutiny, is quite obviously being incredibly naive.
3) The idea that the authors were not eyewitnesses. Some will try to claim that the Gospels had been oral tradition for over a hundred years before being written down sometime in the 2nd or 3rd Century AD by unknown authors who had not been witnesses to the actual events, but instead wrote stories embellished through many generations of re-telling. Such a late date of the writings was largely based upon misinformation concerning how the Gospels were written down. Though the original Gospels were almost certainly written on papyrus scrolls (as important documents usually were), the earliest recovered fragments of the Gospels were not written on scrolls, but in a form known as 'codex', similar to today's books. While scrolls were almost always written on one side only, codex documents had writing on both sides. Since it was previously believed that codex documents were not produced prior to the 3rd or 4th century A.D., these scraps were given a date no earlier than 200 years after Christ's death.
However, it was recently discovered that codex was used much earlier than previously assumed, and was, in fact, being used back in the 1st Century. Codex books are even mentioned in a poem by a Roman poet named Martial that he wrote about 84-86 A.D. Realizing that an assumption of codex forms being produced no earlier than the 3rd century was incorrect, these documents were re-dated using a process involving distinctive styles of writing known to various areas and dates. Three scraps of the Gospel of Matthew (known as the Magdelen Papyrus) which were written in codex were dated to 50-68 A.D., within thirty or forty years after Christ walked the Earth. Now remember that the original Gospels were written on scrolls, not codex. Also it should be mentioned that the Gospel of Matthew was most likely written after the Gospel of Mark, and perhaps after the Gospel of Luke as well. Therefore these scraps dated to 50-68 A.D. are later copies of a later Gospel. If this dating is accurate, then the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were certainly written during the lifetimes of Matthew and Mark, which would make it nearly impossible to attribute their authorship to anyone other than Matthew and Mark, eye-witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. We know that the book of Acts was Luke's follow-up to his Gospel. We also see that the Apostle Paul, at the end of the book of Acts, is still alive and in prison. We know that Paul was put to death in 67 AD, so we know that the book of Acts had to have been written prior to 67 AD, which would mean that the book of Luke was also written before 67 AD.
Some claim there is no good reason to assume that the supposed authors of the four gospels were who they claimed to be. First of all, unless there is evidence to the contrary, the person generally credited with writing something is probably the actual writer. For example, I have seen no hard evidence that Edgar Allen Poe wrote 'The Raven', but unless there is evidence to the contrary, that's what I'll believe. Also, three of the four Gospels were credited to sources that no one would think to falsely credit them to. Two of them, Mark and Luke, were credited to followers who were not even members of the twelve apostles. A third, Matthew, was credited to the apostle who was probably most hated next to Judas Iscariot. Matthew was a tax collector for Rome, a man who, before becoming a disciple, had betrayed many Jews on Rome's behalf. We have examples of 'gospels' that were well-known at the time to be falsely credited to people like Peter, Mary, James, and Thomas. Such well-loved figures in the early church were obvious choices if you were going to falsely credit them to a follower of Jesus. Falsely crediting them to Matthew, Mark, and Luke would really have served no purpose.
Besides, we have strong evidence supporting the authorship of the Gospels. Early historian Irenaeus (circa 175 AD) confirms the authorship of the all four Gospels, as does Diatessaron (circa 170 AD). Early historians Papias (circa 125 AD) and Origen (circa 240 AD) all confirm that Matthew was the writer of the Gospel attributed to him. Mark's authorship is also confirmed by them, as well as Justyn Martyr (circa 150 AD), Clement of Alexandria (circa 200 AD), and Tertullian (circa 207 AD), among many others. Luke's was also confirmed by Clement of Alexandria, as well as by Muratori and Tertullian. Theophilus (circa 170 AD) also confirms the authorship of John.
Another important point is that the Jews were very traditional people. Their religion and social institution was passed down, virtually unchanged, from the time of Moses to the time of Christ. They strongly believed that their ways were given to them by God Himself. But suddenly, with the appearance of Jesus, thousands of Jews are suddenly willing to change their religion and social institutions that they have held for many, many generations. Suddenly, the Jews who followed Christ started doing things like refraining from animal sacrifice, celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, and believing that someone could be man and God at the same time. The fact that they were willing to make such drastic changes after many centuries of tradition, shows that they experienced something that shook their faith to the core. The claims of a mere handful of people that something miraculous happened would not have been enough to change the social and religious structures of tens of thousands of ultra-traditional Jews. Only an actual miracle, witnessed by hundreds who were willing to go to all lengths to spread the word of what they saw, could have had so drastic a change. And also remember that the earliest followers were almost exclusively from Jerusalem, the very city in which Jesus was resurrected. Had the 'real story' been significantly different from what was written in the Gospels, these people would not have been fooled into believing books describing non-existant events in their own home town within a generation's time.
I often hear non-believers bringing up the 'Q' Gospel in an attempt to prove the authors were not eyewitnesses. First, it should be noted that the 'Q' Gospel is nothing more than a theory ('Q', by the way, stands for 'Quelle', the German word for 'source'). No copies, or even portions, of it have ever been found (odd, considering that we've found literally thousands of copies and portions of the other Gospels). The argument is that the authors of Luke and Matthew had solely based their gospels on earlier writings, including the book of Mark and the 'Q' Gospel. Saying they based it on Mark alone is a problem, since both Matthew and Luke are much longer and more detailed than Mark, and also Matthew was certainly closer to Jesus than Mark was (Mark was probably an eyewitness to the resurrection, but got most of his details from the Apostle Peter). Going under the assumption that Q exists, this in no way offers even the suggestion that the authors of Matthew and Luke were not eyewitnesses. 'Q', if it existed, was essentially nothing more than a list of Jesus' sayings. Most of the details in Matthew and Luke involve something OTHER than sayings. And eyewitnesses using such a source would not be odd. Suppose a modern-day reporter watched the President make a speech and wanted to write an article about it. Would it be odd for him to request a copy of the speech he heard in order to make sure he quoted the President correctly? Of course not.
There is also the claim that the gospels have been re-written so many times that it impossible to know what the original texts said. While it is true that they were hand-copied many times, they were also hand-copied by many different people in many different areas independently of one another. If those hand-copying the gospels were taking liberties with changes to the text, the end result would have been hundreds of wildly different gospels, yet they have been passed down by many different groups virtually identical to one another. Historians have tracked two such paths that split off for 1000 years without contact between the two groups, and the end result was a Bible with only 8 differences in wording, none of the differences significant enough to affect the meaning of what was being written. There are recently-discovered complete (or nearly complete) copies of the Bible dating back to the 5th century (such as the Codex Vaticanus) that prove the accuracy of the Bibles that were passed down through the generations. Scholars have literally thousands of portions of copies of New Testament writings that date back to the first few centuries, not only in Hebrew and Greek, but also in Syriac, Latin, and Coptic among other languages. Despite these different languages and vast number of copies, there are NO discrepancies in any important fact or doctrine. Also, prior to the 20th century, the oldest complete copy of the Old Testament dated back to the 12th century AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, dated back to the 1st century, and contained all of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther. The 1st century manuscripts were virtually identical to the 12th century manuscripts, without a SINGLE WORD being altered except for minor spelling variations. This is further evidence that those copying Biblical manuscripts never deviated from the source manuscripts. In fact, if you were take all of the thousands of ancient New Testament manuscripts in existence and compare them, you would find deviations in only around 0.5% of the text (and that mostly due to different wording for the same ideas). Of all of these different copies from different parts of the world from different eras of time, they are still 99.5% in agreement on what they say, and 100% in agreement on all important facts and doctrine. Most ancient books don't even have enough copies in existence to make this kind of comparison possible. Of those that do, none have the remarkable lack of deviations that the New Testament has. Besides, a significant amount of time between the original writings, and the earliest existing copies, is rarely, if ever, taken as evidence that the writings were significantly altered. Aristotles' writings, the History of Thucydides, Caesar's history of the Gallic wars, and Homer's Iliad were all written a thousand or more years earlier than the earliest existing copies, yet historians consider them accurate copies of what was originally written. For the New Testament, the range of time between the original writings and the earliest existing copies is usually less than a hundred years (sometimes as little as a couple of decades) and never more than 200-250 years. The truth is that no other ancient book has the manuscript support that the New Testament has. And if you think this is good evidence for its reliability, there's more. We also have over 86,000 quotations from the New Testament written in the letters of early Christian writers. In fact, we could reconstruct the entire New Testament, with the exception of only 11 verses, from extra-Biblical sources that date to within 200 years of the time Christ walked the Earth.
So you can see how ludicrous it is to make the claim that the writings have been seriously altered or edited over time.
Could the resurrection have been a myth?
No, it could not have been something as simple as a myth. I am sort of a fan of 'urban legends' (and if you like them, too, here's a great web site---> Urban Legends Reference Pages). It's true that myths are often spread as the truth, but you will notice that those who swear the myth to be true never claim to be eyewitnesses. It's usually something they have heard from a friend of a friend, or from some media source that they can't quite remember. With the resurrection, those telling the story claimed to be EYEWITNESSES, and the story was being widely spread very soon after the events, when others able to easily debunk the myth could easily have done so. The evidence shows that while some believe it didn't happen, no one could offer any evidence against the eyewitnesses' testimonies. The resurrection has none of the characteristics of a myth. It was either the most elaborate and cruel hoax of all time, or it was the truth. And I think I have already shown that it is very unlikely to have been a hoax.
Something else standing against the 'myth' idea is that the stories do not accomplish what we would expect if they were myths. For one thing, these stories are being told by the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, yet they do not glorify those doing the telling. Instead, we see those telling the stories doing things like running from trouble, failing at their attempts to please, and sleeping when they are most needed. Also, stories told by men (especially in those days) tended to be chauvenistic, yet the Gospels portray Jesus' female followers as being His most loyal. Women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection, since they had come to annoint Jesus' body while the men had lost hope in their savior.
Myths tend to overstate and embellish, especially when it comes to the actions of those telling the story. The Gospels do none of this.
Many people attempt to debunk the Gospels by pointing out that the four gospels tell the stories differently, and some claim that the stories are contradictory. I respond to the claims of contradiction on this page: Bible 'Contradictions'. As for the fact that the stories are not told exactly the same in all four Gospels, that actually validates them. If the Gospels were nothing but fabricated lies, the authors would have had to write them together, in which case all four stories would have matched exactly. However, if four people witness the same events and later write about what happened honestly and independently, there is certain to be some differences in the details.
Other people attempt to debunk them by pointing out the lack of verification of major events, such as Herod's murder of the Children of Bethlehem. According to Matthew 2:16, Herod slew all children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. Yet no other Historian has ever confirmed this. Non-believers argue that such an atrocity could not have gone unnoticed. However, scholars generally agree that the number of children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem at that time could not have been more than twenty or thirty. Considering the atrocities that history has recorded about Herod, such as the fact that Herod ordered 3000 people to be slaughtered upon his own death (so that there would be mourning when he died), the slaughter of only 20 children could easily have gone unnoticed. Another important historical fact mentioned in the Bible is that upon Christ's death there was darkness over all the earth for about 3 hours. This could not have been a simple eclipse because they never last that long, and also this occurred at Passover time when there was a full moon, and solar eclipses cannot happen during a full moon. Non-believers ask why a worldwide darkness for 3 full hours was not recorded by anyone but the Gospel writers. In fact, it was. Pagan historian Thallus, writing in 52 AD recorded that, at the Passover of 32 AD, there was a lengthy period of worldwide darkness.
Many scholars, in attempting to get the hard facts about the events of the first century A.D., have actually been swayed by the evidence they've uncovered. Particularly in the last hundred years, archeologists and historians have uncovered hundreds of pieces of evidence that have backed up the Bible, and not one that has ever seriously contradicted it. In fact, few historical events are as well-supported through evidence as the Resurrection of Jesus. Lee Strobel, a Yale-educated legal editor for the 'Chicago Tribune', was a self-avowed atheist who decided to give a skeptical inquiry into the events of Christ's life and early Christianity. For anyone who wants to take a look at the historical data through the eyes of a skeptic, I would strongly recommend Strobel's book "The Case For Christ". In his book, he says, "In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth!"
If you do not believe in the resurrection, I would strongly recommend that you examine the evidence for yourself. Not only the books by opponents of the Bible, but by proponents as well. I would particularly recommend these books, which have helped me in my creation of this page:
"Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?" by Gary Habermas and Antony Flew "The Case For Christ" by Lee Strobel "More Than A Carpenter" by Josh McDowell