Why I Believe in the Resurrection
Just in time for Easter:
First, I believe in the resurrection because as I read the rest of the Scriptures, the fact that this God would work to bring life out of death makes perfect sense. In other words, the internal logic of the Bible is consistent. The God who brought Israel from the death of captivity in Egypt to life in the Promised Land is the same God who can bring Jesus back from the dead.
Second, I believe in the resurrection because early Christians claimed to be eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus (Lk. 1:2, 1 Jn. 1:1-3). Contrary to popular belief, the early Christians weren’t gullible, and were able to distinguish between myth and real history (Lk. 1:1-4, 2 Pet. 1:16) Neither can we say they drew source material from the surrounding cultures, whether Jewish or pagan.
First, not all Jews believed in a physical resurrection (the Saducees), and those that did (most of all the others) held to a general resurrection at the end of history, not the resurrection of a single individual in the middle of history.
Second, Hellenistic culture generally went back and forth between two poles. One pole was materalist (ex: the Epicurians, the Atomists, and the Homeric epics) and believed that when you died, you stayed dead. The other pole was dualist (Gnosticism, Platonism, and later neo-Platonism), believing the immaterial spirit was good and pure, while the physical world (especially the human body) was impure and base. They would have been appaled by the thought of returning to body, which they thought of as the “prision house of the soul.” While some surrounding groups believed in a life after death (the continued existence of a disembodied spirit), but would never have called this type of existence “resurrection.”
Likewise, there was too much to lose socially from publically confessing belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, the early Jewish Christians continued to maintain the belief that Jesus was raised from the died. Jews were thrown out of the synogogue for their belief in Christ. Christians were presecuted by the Romans because they refused to engage in Emperor worship. The meaning of the resurrection, according to Peter, was that the risen Jesus, was “both Lord and Christ” (compare Acts 2:36), causing a direct confrontation with the claims of the Roman Emperor, whose claim was “Caesar is Lord.” Many of the apostles were in fact killed because of maintaining their Christian faith and belief in the resurrection. Now we ask, why continue to maintain the belief in the resurrection despite it’s politically incorrect status? Because it was the truth.
Now, one may ask, why should I believe that these men weren’t lying, conconcting a story to start a religion and amass power for themselves? Considering both the moral character of these individuals, and their eventual martyrdom, it is unlikely that they invented the resurrection story. The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t come out on their side.
Third, I believe in the resurection because the tomb of Jesus was empty, and the body has never been recovered. There is no serious debate over whether Jesus’ tomb was empty, both sides agree. Jesus’ disciples claimed it was empty, and it caused them much grief (Jn. 20:1-10). Jesus’ enemies admitted that it was empty but claimed that the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11-15) The Toledoth Yeshu, (an early collection of Jewish writings), claims that Christ’s body was stolen, as does the record of a second century debate between the Christian Justin Martyrs and Trypho the Jew (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter CVII), “his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”
This explanation is, of course, highly implausible. Are we really expected to believe that a group of depressed, militarily untrained fishermen (who didn’t even expect Christ to resurrect!) to outsmart and overpowered a band of Roman guards trained in the art of killing?
Let’s think of another possible scenerio. Maybe the disciples looked into the wrong tomb, found it empty and thought Christ arose. Well, first that ignores the eyewitness testimony, and it assumes that the disciples were fools. Moreover that explanation doesn’t address why no one else ever found the body. Had Jesus’ body been recovered by his enemies, Christianity as a Messianic movement would have been crushed early on. The body would have been paraded around to silence the apostles.
Lastly, in the process of retelling the resurrection story, the Gospel writers include counter-productive material if their goal was to launch an upstart religion. First, the account of “doubting Thomas.” Why present one of the pillars of the faith as a doubter? Secondly, the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb were women, who were not considered viable legal witness. Notice how evem Paul in his account of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 leaves out the detail about the women. He didn’t deny that it happened, but realized that it wasn’t an apologetically useful bit of information. The Gospel authors, on the other hand, were recording history, and had to “tell it like it is.” And finally, Matthew includes the odd fact that, even after the resurrection some doubted (Matt. 28:17).