Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Doubt Jesus

There are many stories in the Bible that elicit skepticism. The one that seems to draw the most attention is most definitely the resurrection of Christ, due in part to its significance within the framework of salvation from sin and reconciliation with God. Yet, what I find very intriguing about skepticism of the resurrection is that it didn’t start in the halls of prestigious universities or the courts of Rome. Doubts of the resurrection originated from the people most devout to Christ: His disciples.

Doubt among the Disciples

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we read of numerous times when disciples had doubts in Jesus’ claims. These doubts only escalated when Christ’s crucifixion began. One might immediately think of Peter’s multiple public denials of Christ, or the fact that only a handful of Christ’s followers were present at the time Christ’s death. But no doubts seemed more profound than those that followed Jesus’ death.

What we read of in scripture is a full and complete acceptance of Christ’s death among His followers. There is no inclination what so ever that any of the disciples thought they’d see their Messiah alive and well again. Why would the women go to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body unless they honestly believed He was dead. Why did many of the disciples that saw Jesus resurrected think He was a ghost unless they honestly thought He was dead. We can rest assured that the disciples were certain Jesus was dead.

Thus, we would naturally expect strong skepticism from the disciples when reports began to trickle in that Christ had risen from the dead. And this is exactly what we read of. The disciples continually did not believe the testimony of those that claimed they saw Jesus (Mark  16:11; Luke 24:11, 41; and John 20:25). To me, this is a very important line of evidence in the authenticity of the Gospel accounts because it shows the same logical thought that any rational skeptic today would have upon hearing of a dead man’s resurrection. And what follows is even more profound: That such skeptics would immediately do a 180 and begin boldly preaching of their risen Messiah.

Naturally, skepticism remains today, and a variety of theories have been developed to explain away the disciples’ behavior at this important juncture. There is a theory that Christ rose again spiritually not physically, another that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion and escaped alive without ever dying, and there is a theory that the disciples stole the body. It is not worth discussing such theories in this article because the conclusive doubts of the disciples already disproves them and they are, for lack of better term, ridiculous, as the Gospel accounts in no way support such theories and they would require feats so miraculous it would defeat the whole motive behind these theories, which are to explain away the miraculous. But there are two theories worth exploring that are commonly used to explain the disciples change in behavior after the death of Christ: The Hallucination Theory and the good old fashioned Liar Theory.

Hallucinations

The hallucination theory maintains that the disciples were so distraught at the death of their leader that they hallucinated his return as a coping mechanism. Thus, the disciples went on preaching what they thought to be true, though it really wasn’t. To anyone who doesn’t know the particulars of the gospel narratives that may seem like a plausible scenario, but when the content of story is analyzed its feasibility is remote.

The first thing to consider is the cause(s) of hallucinations. According to the National Institute of Health hallucinations are caused by the following: Drug or alcohol intoxication, dementia, epilepsy, fever, narcolepsy, psychiatric disorders, sensory impairment, and sever illness (1).  Next we need to account for the supposed appearances of Christ after His death. Reappearances of Christ occurred to multiple people at multiple locations, at one point occurring to 500 people. And therein lies the problem with this theory: The causes of hallucination would need to apply to all the witnesses (over 500) at various different times and locations. It is incredibly unlikely for so many people at different times and locations to suffer from these symptoms. It is even more incredible that all these people would, at different times and locations, hallucinate in their own minds, the very same thing. Such a claim seems so preposterous it would necessitate a miracle, which is exactly what the theory looks to dismiss.

Now one might try to escalate the plausibility of this scenario by downplaying the amount of people that hallucinated of the resurrected Jesus. After all, we were told that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus, but that could very well be an exaggeration. The visions may very well be limited to the disciples alone, and thus, the plausibility of the hallucination theory remains.

This rebuttal, however, overlooks Paul’s declarations regarding these hundreds of witnesses, of which Paul declared that half of the people that had witnessed these events were still alive and could testify of them (1 Corinthians 15:6). Apologist Timothy Keller writes, “Paul indicates [in this text] that the risen Jesus not only appeared to individuals and small groups but he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing and could be consulted for corroboration. Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. It was a bold challenge and one that could easily be taken up, since during the pax Romana travel around the Mediterranean was safe and easy. Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist,”  (Keller, pp. 204).

So considering Paul’s very public declaration of Christ’s resurrection it is unlikely that he would embellish on the number of witnesses, leaving the original problem of such a wide variety of people suffering the same hallucinations. With that, it would be rational to conclude the hallucination theory holds no weight.  The late apologist and associate professor of evangelism at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield Illinois, Paul E. Little, writes, “To hold the hallucination theory in explaining the appearances of Christ, one must completely ignore the evidence,” (Little, 56).

A Foundation of Lies

With the hallucination theory out of the way the only other scenario skeptics can resort to is the very basic and commonly held notion that the disciples flat out lied about Christ’s resurrection. The theory goes that the return of their Messiah is a concocted tale with motive ranging from saving face to emotional shock. Yet this theory does not hold under pressure either.

A major criticism comes from Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “It will not do… to say that Jesus’ disciples were so stunned and shocked by his death, so unable to come to terms with it, that they projected their shattered hopes onto the screen of fantasy and invented the idea of Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as a way of coping with a cruelly broken dream. That has an initial apparent psychological plausibility, but it won’t work as serious first century history. We know lots of other messianic and similar movements in the Jewish world roughly contemporary with Jesus. In many cases the leader died a violent death at the hands of the authorities. In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming that their hero had been raised from the dead. They know better. ‘Resurrection’ was not a private event. It involved human bodies. There would have to be an empty tomb somewhere. A Jewish revolutionary whose leader had been executed by the authorities, and who managed to escape arrest himself, had two options: give up the revolution, or find another leader. We have evidence of people doing both. Claiming that the original leader was alive again was simply not an option. Unless, of course, he was,” (Wright, pp. 63).

Additional criticism stems from issues in motivation. What motivation did the disciples have for concocting this lie? They surely would not financially or physically prosper from it as they had already left their lives behind to follow Jesus.  Lastly, and most obviously, would the disciples have willingly sacrificed themselves for something they knew to be untrue? A majority of the disciples were killed for their beliefs. It is one thing to die for something you believe to be true, it is quite another to die for something you know to be a lie. The fact that many disciples died painful deaths after a duration of being tortured, without recanting, testifies to the fact that they believed in what they preached, that their leaders was alive. If they had made the whole thing up, they surely would not have willingly died in such ways, or at the very least would have recanted during torture. With that said, the liar theory is not adequate either.

Indirect Evidence

One very interesting source of authentication of this story comes from world famous philosopher, and skeptic, David Hume. Though Hume questioned the claims of scripture in general, he found value in the disciples’ actions after Christ’s death. He writes,

“The direct testimony for this event appears to me to be very feeble… But the indirect evidence is much stronger. We have testimony to the effect that the disciples were exceedingly depressed at the time of the Crucifixion; that they had extremely little faith in the future; and that, after a certain time, this depression disappeared, and they believed that they had evidence that their Master had risen from the dead. Now none of these alleged facts is in the least odd or improbable, and we have therefore little ground for not accepting them on the testimony offered us. But having done this, we are faced with the problem of accounting for the facts which we have accepted. What caused the disciples to believe, contrary to their previous conviction, and in spite of their feeling of depression, that Christ had risen from the dead? Clearly, one explanation is that he actually had arisen. And this explanation accounts for the facts so well that we may at least say that the indirect evidence for the miracle is far and way stronger than the direct evidence,” (Broad , 142-143). To Hume, it is the very change in behavior among the disciples from depressed doubters to highly motivated evangelists is what provides the strongest evidence for Christ’s resurrection.

Little further expands on this, “What was it that changed a band of frightened, cowardly disciples into men of courage and conviction? What was it that changed Peter who, the night before the crucifixion, was so afraid for his own skin that three times he denied publicly that he even knew Jesus. Some fifty days later he became a roaring lion, risking his life by saying he had seen Jesus risen from the dead. It must be remembered that Peter preached his electric Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem, where all the events took place and his life was in danger. He was not in Galilee, miles away where no one could verify the facts and where his ringing statements might go unchallenged. Only the bodily resurrection of Christ could have produced this change,” (Little, 56).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the actions of the disciples after Christ’s death provides compelling evidence to support the claims they made. And with all other conspiracy theories debunked, we’re left with only one explanation that is reasonable, which is that Christ did rise from the dead. Though this will obviously be difficult for skeptics who do not believe in the supernatural to accept. Dr. Jared M. Compton, Assistant Professor of the New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary explains, “If the facts are patiently considered and one’s worldview is not illegitimately predisposed against the miraculous, then Scripture’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead is at least a possible conclusion. In other words, the Resurrection could be historically reliable. We might even say, for the moment, that since no better alternative explanation of the facts has arisen, Scripture’s explanation is presently the most satisfactory or plausible. The trouble is, Scripture, not least its divine Author, is not content with the Resurrection being deemed ‘possible’ or ‘most satisfactory.’ In fact, Scripture is not even content with ‘definite’ and ‘best,’ because its purpose points beyond belief in historical events. Scripture’s goal is not simply assent to history but, rather, conversion. As such, Scripture not only demands the events it records to be recognized as historical, it wants the explanations it gives those events to be believed (e.g., “Jesus was raised for our justification,” Rom 4:25),” (Compton).

British Bishop, scholar and theologian Brooke Foss Westcott once declared, “Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it,” (Westcott, pp. 4).

Alas, doubt of Christ’s resurrection may have originated with the disciples, but it is this same doubt, and the actions that followed afterwards, that go great lengths in authenticating the story.

References:

(1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm, accessed 6-22-2013.

-Broad, C.D., (1965) “Hume’s Theory of the Credibility of Miracles,” as written in Alexander Sesonske and Noel Fleming’s Human Understanding, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth).

-Compton, J.M., (March 2010) “Is the Resurrection Historically Reliable?” http://www.biblearchaeology.org

-Keller, T., (2008) The Reason for God; Christian Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (New York, NY: Dutton).

-Little, P.E. (2000) Know Why You Believe, 4th Edition, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

-Westcott, B.F. (1879) The Gospel of the Resurrection, (London).

-Wright, N.T., (1993 ) Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Advertisements

Christianity all revolves around a critical facet of the New Testament; the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If Jesus never resurrected from the dead that Christianity is pointless for the most part. His conquering of death is the climax of His divine life. Though there are many conspiracies regarding whether Jesus died or not, there is one in particular regarding His burial that stands out. This is the conspiracy that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs or other wild animals. And therefore there was no resurrection because there was no body left to resurrect.

Before proceeding, it should first be put to rest the debate on whether Jesus was actually crucified. The vast majority of scholars (secular and non-secular) agree Jesus was crucified. The writers of the gospels wrote an incredibly detailed and accurate account of it. It was also the most shameful way to die, which leads one conclude the stories were not concocted, as why would followers write of their Messiah dying in the most humiliating and shameful way? Unless it was true. Also non-Christian Roman historian Tactitus recorded Jesus’ crucifixion. So rest assured it can be logically established that Jesus was crucified. But what happened to Jesus’ body after it was crucified.

J.D. Crossan writes, “The norm was to let the crucified rot on the cross or be cast aside for carrion.”[1] Crossan believes Jesus most likely incurred the same fate of being left on the cross, his body then eaten by wild animals. Crossan’s conclusion is reached from evidence from the historical event from AD70 when Emperor Titus captured and crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels leaving their bodies to rot on the crosses from which they hung. There are numerous occasions when mass executions were recorded in Rome with bodies left to rot. Many Roman writers mentioned crucifixion in their literature, “The Vulture hurries, from dead cattle to dead dogs to crosses.”[2] Lastly Crossan points out that of the tens of thousands of crucified people killed for centuries, only one bone has been found of a crucified person. This, he claims, is testimony that the crucified had their bodies consumed by wild animals.

“In the ancient mind, the supreme honor of crucifixion was to lose public mourning, to forfeit proper burial, to lie separate from one’s ancestors forever… In normal circumstances the soldiers guarding the body until death and thereafter it was left for carrion crow, scavenger, dog, or other wild beast to finish the brutal job. That non-burial consummated the authority’s dreadful warning to any observer and every passerby.” John Dominic Crossan, Jesus Seminar.[3]

Jewish Law:

Sure, in most areas of theRoman Empirecrucified bodies were left for the wild animals. But Jesus was crucified inJudea, a Jewish country. AndJudeawas governed by Jewish Law, particularly Deut. 21:22-23; “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance (NIV),” and Ezekiel 39:14-16, “People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground. After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in theValleyofHamon Gog, near a town called Hamonah.And so they will cleanse the land (NIV).”

The Temple Scroll from Qumran from before the time of Christ also testifies to this, “You shall not allow bodies to remain on a tree overnight most assuredly, you shall bury them, even on the very day of their death,”[4]  The Jewish Book of Tobit written between the OT and the NT says that burying an abandoned corpse is an act of supreme piety.[5]

Rabbis of the time also recorded that even the death of criminals deserved proper burial.[6] Then take into consideration that Jesus died on the eve of a significant Jewish holiday, Passover. If there is one time you don’t break Jewish law, it’s a major holiday like Passover. That’s plenty of motivation to bury Jesus’ body, which is exactly the gospels say happened. Now you might be thinking, so what? Roman Law supersedes Jewish Law, so it doesn’t matter what the Jewish Law were.

Roman Law:

True it didn’t matter what the Jewish Laws were during periods of war. Like the Jewish revolt in AD 70, when the Romans crucified thousands of Jews and left their bodies to rot on crosses. But we’re talking about Jesus’ crucifixion forty years earlier. Jesus wasn’t crucified during a time of war, but in fact during a relatively peaceful time inJerusalem.

During times of peace, Romans respected the laws of the nations they controlled, in this case the Jewish law. Jewish-Roman historian Josephus wrote the following, “The Romans do not require… their subjects to violate national laws.”[7] Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria wrote the following of Jewish practices, “I’ve known cases when, on the eve of a holiday of this sort, people who have been crucified were taken down, their bodies handed over to the families, because it was considered good to give them burial and allow their ordinary rites. It was appropriate that the dead also should have the advantage of kindness upon the emperor’s birthday and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.”[8]

Josephus records an event where Herod Antipas gave the body of John the Baptist back to his disciples after John was beheaded.[9] It is very probable Pontius Pilate gave the body of Jesus back to His family based off what was common place at that time, even though Roman law didn’t command it. It would have been in Pilate’s best interest to keep the peace anyways before such a big Jewish festival took place.

Even the Roman Law itself allowed leeway for this. Pandectae summarized Roman legal code for crucifixion as follows; “The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and [Caesar] Augustus the Divine, in the tenth book of his Vita, said that this rule had been observed. At present the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially when the persons have been committed of high treason… The body of persons have been punished should be given to whoever requests them for the purpose of burial.”[10]

So then why is their so much recorded history of people being left on the cross and their bodies left to rot and be picked apart by wild animals? Because being crucified was the ultimate form of humiliation, torture and death, reserved only for the worst criminals. It was the most shame one could endure. So if a family member was crucified it would be a shame to the family to take the body down. Many people sent to the cross were disowned by their families. Then take into consideration that theRoman empirecovered vast regions of the earth were there were no Jewish inhabitants with such strict burial laws and it becomes clear why there are so many accounts of bodies being left to rot on the cross. But when taking into consideration Roman and Jewish law and the circumstances of Jesus’ death on the eve of Passover, there is no reason to assume Jesus’ body was left to rot.

What about their being only one bone of a crucified person found? This claim comes from the fact that there has only been one bone discovered in which a crucifixion nail was still imbedded in the bone. But there could be dozens of reasons why only one has been found in such a fashion: Not all crucifixions involved nails penetrating actual bone. If a body was taken off a cross the nails would be removed and why would someone bury the crucified body along with the nails? Just because we haven’t found any more bones with nails in them doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And just because nails were not found among the skeletal remains of a body does not mean there was no crucifixion. In other words, it’s quite a stretch to draw such a conclusion that only one bone found with a nail means that all crucified bodies were eaten by wild animals.

In conclusion, if one understands Jewish and Roman Law and crucifixion practices at that time, it becomes pretty clear that there is no basis to speculate Jesus’ body was left to rot, eaten by wild animals.


[1] J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (Harper One 1995) Pg. 127

[2] Juvenal, Satires 14:77-78

[3] As quoted in Crossan and Reed’s, Excavating Jesus; Beneath the Stones, Behind the Text, (Harper Collins 2002) pg.290-291; J.D. Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (Harper One 1995) Pg.153.

[4]11QT64:11-13, 4Q524l 11QT48:10-14

[5] Book of Tobit 1:18-20, 2:3-8, 4:3-4,14:10-13

[6] Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:4-6

[7] Josephus, Contra Apionem, 2:6

[8] Philo of Alexandria, In Flaccus, 10.81-85

[9] Josephus, Antiquities Judaica, 18:5

[10] Corpus Iuris Civilis, Pandectae 48.24.1-3