Resurrection Series- Part 4: Opposing Theories
Welcome to part four of the Resurrection series. Please see part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the series for a better understanding of what is being discussed. In this post, we will look at four opposing theories to the Resurrection.
Despite the evidence for the Resurrection, there are numerous opposing theories. The first of these is the theory that the disciples’ claims to the Resurrection are all legendary; legends crept in over time and distorted the truth. However, the Resurrection story originated from the disciples. If skeptics wish to accuse them of lying or hallucinating, they may since the disciples themselves made the claim. But there is no evidence for the assumption that legend crept in after the disciples. But even if we suppose that legend did creep in to the Resurrection account, it is important to realize that Paul believed in Jesus separate from the disciples’ testimonies (as a matter of fact, he didn’t go up to Jerusalem for three years after his conversion, during which time he received the Gospel of God [Galatians 1:18]). Jesus’ brother James also believed in Christ independent of the testimony of the disciples. If the skeptics still wish to assert that embellishments crept into the Resurrection account over time (and this does happen with many stories), throwing this assertion onto the Resurrection account is not evidence. A subtler version of this assertion is that the disciples wrote in a way that would honor their Master, but their writings are not to be taken as historical accounts of a literal resurrection. But there are several factors which speak against this point. Firstly, the empty tomb is evidence; Christianity spread so rapidly across Jerusalem, when it could have been stopped by simply producing the body of Jesus – and even the enemies attested to the fact that the tomb was empty. Secondly, Paul was a Jew who was well acquainted with Jewish fable, and he would not have been impressed with an attempt to promote a Messiah, much less a Jewish Midrash. Furthermore, he would not have followed a false Messiah; yet he was converted to Christianity. Likewise, James, who was still a pious Jew after his conversion, would not have let a fictitious tale of a cursed (crucified) Messiah lead him astray; yet he also converted to Christianity. Thirdly, simply pointing out mystical accounts to prove that the Resurrection (and other Christian genre) is also a fable proves nothing; anyone who uses this logic needs to find another argument. Yes, fable genre existed, but so did historical genre. In the case of the Resurrection, the Scriptures show a historical genre; Acts 2:13 compares David’s corrupted body to Jesus’ resurrected body. Furthermore, every enemy of Christianity in early antiquity implies that the church believed that the Resurrection really did happen (though these people argue over whether it was a literal or bodily resurrection); it is a historical event.
Many times critics will argue that there are resurrections in other religions in order to discredit the Resurrection of Christ. However, these accounts are unclear and their details are vague; hence no scholar today would consider them to be parallel to Jesus’ Resurrection. Still many point to Aesculapius, who was struck by lightning and then ascended into heaven; and Baccus and Hercules and a few others who died violent deaths and ascended to heaven on the horse Pegasus. But the first account of a supposed resurrection occurred over 100 years after Jesus; there was no clear resurrection before this in any pagan account. In Marduk’s case, there was no clear death or resurrection. The earliest accounts of Adonis report no death or resurrection, and all accounts of Osiris’ rising are ambiguous. Not only do these so-called resurrections lack evidence, but they can also be easily discredited with conflicting theories; however, “opposing theories cannot explain the evidence that exists for Jesus’ resurrection” (page 226). Thus, we see that legend cannot account for Jesus’ Resurrection.
Since legend pales in comparison to the Resurrection, the critics propose another theory: the disciples either lied about Jesus’ Resurrection or they stole the body (and if they didn’t then someone else did). But even this does not stand to scrutiny; for as we mentioned earlier, the disciples really believed that they had seen the risen Christ. Secondly, this does not account for the conversion of Paul who, as a zealous Jew and an enemy of the church, would have concluded that such things were a fraud; yet He saw the risen Christ, and thus was converted. This also does not explain the conversion of Jesus’ skeptical Law-abiding Jewish brother, James. He didn’t even believe in Jesus’ miracles prior to the Resurrection; something must have happened in order for him to suddenly believe after the Resurrection – otherwise, the Resurrection would have been just another fairy tale to him. Yet, James was converted because of an appearance by the Resurrected Christ. If someone else had stolen the body, these facts still cannot be accounted for. The belief of the disciples was based primarily on the Resurrection and the appearances that they had experienced. Furthermore, the disciples did not expect a Resurrection, nor did they instantly believe when they saw the empty tomb and heard the testimony from the women. But even if it were true that the disciples had lied, or that they or someone else stole the body, this only provides further proof that the tomb was, indeed, empty. Additionally, the disciples were willing to die for their beliefs. Although this does not verify that a belief is true (since many have died for what they thought was the truth), this at least shows that the disciples sincerely thought their beliefs were accurate. Actually, their willingness to die strongly indicates that sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead; in other words, they were not lying. This differs from other religions, because in most cases those dying for their faith have been deceived by false doctrines. But the disciples claimed that Jesus Resurrected and that they saw Him thereafter; if the disciples had been unknowingly deceived, someone could have easily pointed it out to them – but no one did. If they had been liars, they would not have died for a lie; and even in this case, someone could have produced evidence to prove that they lied if they had. Yet, when the disciples preached saying, “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:10), no one stated that it was not true. Therefore, we can conclude that the disciples did not steal the body, nor did they lie about the Resurrection.
Another theory purported against the Resurrection is that everyone went to the wrong tomb; this is appropriately called the “Wrong Tomb Theory.” Firstly, as is constantly being reasserted, this does not account for the numerous Resurrection appearances. Secondly, the Gospels report that the empty tomb convinced no one of the Resurrection except John. Mary concluded that the gardener had taken Jesus away, and the other disciples did not believe upon hearing or seeing that the tomb was empty. Additionally, Paul was not convinced by the empty tomb but by an actual post-Resurrection appearance. If Paul had not experienced the Resurrected Christ, he would have concluded, as do the skeptics, that Jesus’ body was stolen or that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. Neither would an empty tomb have convinced James; he had to experience a post-Resurrection appearance before he believed in Christ. Furthermore, the New Testament records the location of the tomb by stating that it belonged to Joseph of Aramathea; this fact would not have been included in the Gospels if it were not important – anyone could locate the tomb. Thus, it is highly unlikely that anyone went to the wrong tomb.
Because the “Wrong Tomb Theory” is not feasible, some critics resort to the claim that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross; He just appeared to be dead. This is called the “Apparent Death Theory” or, as it is commonly known, the “Swoon Theory.” But this is highly unlikely considering the process of scourging coupled with crucifixion itself. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a pathologist from Mayo Clinic and two others studied the process of scourging and immediate crucifixion and the effect it would have on an individual. Their analysis shows that not only did the criminal go through much torture in scourging alone, but crucifixion causes asphyxiation as the criminal tries to take the pressure off of his feet, making it difficult to breath; this is believed to be a cause of death for crucified victims. Secondly, the spear wound as witnessed by John (19:34-35) indicates that the sac around Jesus’ heart ruptured (and interestingly, the Roman author Quintilian stated that spearing crucified victims was common). How could someone whose heart has ruptured after all that terrible torture and crucifixion have still been alive? German scholar D.F Strauss said that it was impossible to believe that Jesus – being so wounded as He would have been had He swooned –pushed away the stone with wounded hands, somehow got past the guards (beating them up, perhaps), walk seven miles on wounded feet, and then appear to His disciples in this mutilated position and convince them that He is the Lord of life! Furthermore, if Jesus had merely swooned, how would Paul – or any of the other disciples for that matter -- have been convinced to believe in Him? All of these points show that Jesus did not swoon; He rose from the dead!