Razing the Resurrection?
Contemporary attempts to redefine the resurrection of Jesus Christ misinform popular culture.
Each year with the dawn of spring, tulips and daffodils gloriously rise forth from their winter sleep in the dark, cold earth and Christians prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. In addition, another sign of spring is the usual airing of numerous documentaries and publishing of periodical articles, which seek to redefine the resurrection. These seasonal works generally advocate and circulate the belief that the resurrection is a myth and a product of faith rather than a cogent belief grounded in history. For example, John Spong’s work Resurrection: Myth or Reality, proposes Jesus’ body was thrown in a common grave like all the other victims of crucifixion. According to Spong, the sightings of Jesus are best understood as religious experiences which awakened the disciples to the reality that Jesus was "alive in the heart of God."
The works of authors like Spong reinforce the defeatist beliefs of skeptics and cynics, yet gravely misinform popular culture. Time and space do not allow for a lengthy explanation detailing the numerous reasons why belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is plausible and why the alternatives--while vehemently and smoothly articulated by spokespersons with impressive credentials--are not as cogent as they initially appear. One popular ‘defeater’ of the resurrection that is worthy of deconstructing is the belief that the resurrection accounts in the gospels are legendary; namely, late inventions to reinforce belief in the Christian message. The biblical evidence suggests otherwise.
Tim Keller wisely asserts in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism that the resurrection accounts in the Bible contain too many problematic details to be legends. The earliest account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. In this passage, the Apostle Paul deliberately lists the names of the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus as well as a group of five hundred people. By including the names in this public document, Paul was inviting doubters and naysayers to corroborate the evidence. For an unhistorical legend to take gain traction in a culture would require all the eyewitnesses to pass off the scene in order to prevent them from contradicting the fabrications. The New Testament accounts of the post-resurrection appearances cannot be legends because they were written too early for this to occur. N.T. Wright, an Anglican New Testament scholar and the author of The Resurrection of the Son of God, forcefully identifies the fallacious nature of the claim that the resurrection accounts are legends:
"The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the ‘meeting’ or ‘sightings’ of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had... Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion experience would have generated such ideas;
"Nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and enter into a fantasy world of our own."
The resurrection is not a fabrication of hallucinogenic disciples. It is a reliable historical fact that demands serious consideration.
If anyone, however, chooses to dismiss the strong evidence as inconclusive then one must also offer a historically plausible reason for the sudden emergence of Christianity in the first century, as well as its sustained longevity into the 21st century. Why did the disciples who deserted Jesus on the night of his arrest end up sacrificing their lives in loving service to Him if He never rose from the dead? Jesus’ disciples didn’t embellish fantasies to bolster the Christian message. They had no credible message to proclaim unless Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Instead these early disciples--even a skeptical doubting Thomas that is portrayed in John 20:24-29--allowed the compelling evidence of the eyewitness accounts to confront and challenge their worldview.
Jesus welcomes the cautious skeptic to carefully scrutinize the convincing evidence for a bodily resurrection. He is not afraid of our prodding and probing. Doubting Thomas did and believed. Will you?