Common Objections to the Resurrection Answered, Part 1
It’s assumed that the burden of proof rests on Christians to account for the resurrection. This isn’t entirely true, but we can play along, because there are good answers to critics who don’t believe Jesus really did rise from the dead. Today I’ll look at four common objections, and tomorrow I’ll look at four more. On Saturday, I’ll have five “burden of proof” questions for skeptics.
“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”
- Antony Flew (former atheist)
1. People back then were primitive, foolish, & superstitious. They easily believed things like resurrections. This kind of stuff was “in the air.”
No, they weren’t, and no they didn’t. This is “chronological snobbery” of the highest order. People back then were more acquainted with death than we are, and were not any more likely to believe in revivification (the return of life to the same body), let alone resurrection (the gift of eternal life in a renewed, glorified body). Are we really so much smarter now? Furthermore, it demonstrates an ignorance of the Ancient Near East (ANE) context. According to N.T. Wright’s majestic The Resurrection of the Son of God, pagans emphatically denied resurrection (as distinguished from revivification). Some Jews believed it would happen, but only in the future. None expected it imminently. This is why the disciples themselves–notably Thomas–had such trouble believing it when it happened, even though Jesus had told them in advance!
2. There were dozens of messianic pretenders. Jesus was just one in a long line.
Not so. Yes, there were many others who claimed to be the Messiah, but Jesus was utterly unlike them. Again, according to Wright, “The resurrection of Jesus took everybody by surprise. The disciples weren’t expecting it. They knew perfectly well, that if you followed someone who you thought was the Messiah, and he got killed, then that was it. We know at least a dozen other Messianic or prophetic movements, within a hundred years on either side of Jesus, they routinely ended with the death of the founder. And if the movement wanted to continue, they didn’t say, oh he’s been raised from the dead. They said, lets find his brother or cousin who can carry on this movement. You can see how those Jewish groups did that. This one did it differently. They had James the brother of Jesus, as this great leader of the early church, but nobody said, James is the Messiah. They said, Jesus is the Messiah. Why? He’s dead. They got him, didn’t you realize they crucified… No. He was raised from the dead.” Watch N.T. Wright on the historicity of the resurrection.
3. The Gospel accounts contradict themselves
This is a larger question regarding the reliability and historicity of the Gospels, which is dealt with well in many books like Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and Richard Bauckham’s Jesus & the Eyewitnesses.
But let’s remember that these are four distinct witnesses, describing the same events from different vantage points. Again, to borrow from Wright (he’s the best on this), imagine you’re driving around a city on it’s beltway. You want to get to a downtown destination. As you drive around the beltway, you see signage telling you how to get there, but depending on their placement, they may indicate different direction (North, South, East, West) or mileage. Would you then say they contradict? These are the kinds of ridiculous standards skeptics place on the Gospels.
The Gospels all include the same essential data, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and resurrected on the 3rd day. Even if you (falsely) argue that they contradict each other on smaller details, they still agree on the most important facts. It’s the same with other books of Scripture.
4. Post-resurrection sightings are really just mass hallucinations
Grieving and/or psychologically disturbed people are known to see a dead spouse, relative, or friend. But 500 witnesses, Paul says?! (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Psychology has yet to document simultaneous, identical, mass hallucinations, prolonged over 40 days. This is simply unheard of.