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The Resurrection - Part 4

A fabricated story!

‘Scholars point out that the resurrection narratives are trustworthy when judged by the critical methods of historical study applied to all ancient writings.

Because they contain unflattering content portraying the disciples as scared and slow to believe, even exposing Thomas as a doubter, this suggests they are not fabrications.’[1]

Perhaps the most common view against the resurrection is that the Resurrection account is a fabrication, an elaborate concoction thought up by the disciples to establish some kind of power base and secure their position in society. There are at least three reasons why this is not true.

No resurrection expectation

Contrary to popular myth, nobody in the surrounding culture actually believed in a present-day bodily resurrection. No-one else was running about claiming that their particular religious or political leader had been raised. The idea of a resurrection was simply not in anyone’s system of belief.

Jews did believe in a resurrection at the end of time, but it was absurd to think that a resurrection could happen to an individual in the middle of time. For the Jew the resurrection signalled the renewal of all creation, so it was unthinkable that someone would rise only to live on in a world full of suffering and heartache.

Greeks believed that when you died the spiritual was liberated from the material. The soul (good) and the body (bad) separated. The idea that the body would return to the material world was not desirable.

The reality is no-one in the first-century expected or desired a resurrection, it was quite simply not in their thinking. In fact, as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright observes: ‘In not one single case do we hear the slightest mention of the disappointed followers claiming their hero had been raised from the dead. They knew better.’[2] Instead of concocting a story about a resurrection the disciples needed convinced themselves. They are presented to us as sceptics not believers.

Counterproductive eye witnesses

It is well accepted that if you were to make a case for the resurrection you would not use women as witnesses. In that context and in that time the evidence of a woman was not to be trusted. Josephus a Jewish historian of the first-century writes: 'But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex...since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.' While not an acceptable view then or today, it was nevertheless the prevailing opinion at the time, a woman's testimony was not admissible evidence in court.

In other words, if you wanted to prove the fact of the resurrection you would never use the witness or testimony of women – that undermined your evidence. Writers of that time never used women to back up their case. It would be counterproductive. However, in each of the gospel narratives the first eyewitness are all women. There is obviously no hidden agenda, they present the facts as they are.

Dying for a lie

For those who hold the view that the resurrection was a lie, then they must also have to explain why anyone would die for something they clearly know is not true. Yes, many people give their life to a cause they deeply believe in, but no-one would give up their life for something they know to be utterly false – unless you were completely mad: ‘They were self-destructive to the max, every last one of them, if they were prepared to follow their pack of lies all the way to the torture rack.’[3]

To preach that Jesus had been raised from the dead was costly. History records for us that each of the first disciples, excluding Judas, all died or were imprisoned for their belief. There was no material gain or social status to be achieved by inventing lies about a resurrection. In fact, for the first three hundred and fifty years it was extremely dangerous to be a Christian. You risked being ostracised from your family and community, and being punished by the rulers and authorities. It cost you socially and physically. The same is true today. Parts of the world where Christianity is growing the most is where there is greater persecution. It’s not a power play to be a Christian in any culture or society, it’s costly. The only logical explanation for being willing to die for the truth of the resurrection is, if it is actually true.

While thinking this through we must also take into consideration the independent eye witness accounts of the resurrection. It wasn’t just the disciples who claimed that Jesus had been raised, hundreds[4] of others also claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. What are we to make of all these witnesses – are we to dismiss them all as gullible, insane and willing to give their life for nothing?


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[1] Clark; The problem of God [2] N.T. Wright; Who was Jesus? [3] Kostenburger; Truth matters [4] 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 6

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