‘Tis the season for weird theories about the origins of the Christian faith. Every year at Easter and Christmas, several cable channels will offer shows setting forth odd (and academically rejected) theories about the events surrounding the weekend on which Jesus was crucified.
So, here is a quick primer on how to deal with the most common objections to the claim that Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
1. Objection: “The disciples fabricated the resurrection.” Answer: Hmmm, why? There is no reason for the disciples to have fabricated the resurrection of Jesus. Their loyalty to Jesus had already cost them more than they were comfortable with, so, why would they make up something that would get them into more trouble? What would they gain by doing so? Who would continue to claim they saw something they didn’t when it threatened their livelihood then their freedom and then their very lives. Eventually, in a group of eleven, it breaks down…but it didn’t!
2. Objection: “The Gospels set forth one of many ancient resurrection stories!” Answer: There are NO ancient resurrection stories like the one recorded in the New Testament. Bill Maher’s “documentary” Religulous tried to argue that the resurrection of Jesus was copied from other ancient near eastern accounts. Maher points to the Mithras cult and the Egyptian Horus legend as the precedent for resurrection stories. But many historians now believe the Mithras legend followed not preceded the Christian account. The Egyptian story of Horus is not that analogous to the account of Jesus. Horus was not truly physically resurrected but was spiritually cobbled together (save one piece that I won’t mention) so that he could join the spiritual place of the dead. No one anticipated a physical resurrection and that’s because it was unique as a sign of the future new heavens and new earth in which all of those who place their faith in Jesus will inherit a perfect, eternal physical body.
3. Objection: “The women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb.” Answer: This one is so laughable that it barely deserves a response. It is not as if there were tombs all over Jerusalem for Jews generally avoided all grave sites like the plague and professional stone cut ones were rare. Moreover, Jerusalem, then and now, is not hard to find you way around. I spent a few days in the city and had its streets memorized by the time I left. How much easier was it for Jewish men who would have spent decades visiting there?
4. Objection: “The disciples suffered from some sort of hallucination.” Answer: A hallucination is a private, individual phenomenon, so a common event arrived at via the physical senses cannot be a “hallucination.” For example, there is a commercial in which two men are wandering through a desert and they both see the same thing–P. Diddy hosting a party. They both write it off as a hallucination but two people will not see the same hallucination. If a person is hallucinating, he or she will draw from their own psyche partially formed by their own individual experiences. The commercial makes fun of the two men for thinking their common experience can be a hallucination. The commercial creators are correct. People do not experience the same “hallucination.”
5. Objection: “Jesus did not actually die and simply awoke in the tomb.” Answer: N.T. Wright correctly notes that the Romans were experts in killing. They knew how to make sure someone was dead before they tossed them aside to his or her family. If nothing else, Jesus would have easily bled out by the time they placed him in the empty tomb. Also, such an objection doesn’t deal with the claim that the disciples saw Jesus ascending to heaven. (see #1 and #4). This objection often leads to the statement that ancient people just didn’t understand science but, to paraphrase N.T. Wright again, 1st century Romans and Jews knew that when people died they generally stayed dead!
Of course, there are other objections but these are among the most common. For more I would commend Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan) and Det. J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity (David C. Cook).
In the end, the historical evidence is, at the very least, troubling to a materialistic worldview. C.S. Lewis had an atheist colleague at Oxford who once confessed to him that the evidence for the resurrection was actually very good. Indeed it is.
The tomb is empty. He is risen and He will come again.