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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Questions for Christians: The Resurrection (part 2)

First, the usual disclaimer: the purpose of these posts is to pose questions to Christians who come here (or go anywhere, for that matter) with the intent of converting us to Christianity, but also with an open mind about their own faith. You may post your answers here, or answer them privately, at your discretion. My ultimate goal in asking these questions is to have you deconvert from Christianity. If you are not open to at least the possibility of that happening, then I suggest you not respond to these questions, as that will be a waste of your time (and possibly our bandwidth). At the same time, I am open to the possibility of learning a thing or two about Christianity along the way -- but if you answer these questions publicly, with the intention of being a teacher instead of a learner, then please don't bother doing so here. These questions are for your educational benefit.

This is one in a series of "Questions..." posts that deal with the Bible, the scriptural compilation that constitutes the conceptual framework of the Christian faith. If you were ever a Christian, chances are you've read some of the Bible. If you are still a Christian today, chances are you haven't read all of it.

This is the second "Questions..." post dealing with the most critical of all Christian doctrines: the Resurrection of Jesus.

2. Given that the gospel writers who told the Resurrection stories had evangelical purposes, what makes you think they were reliable?

Biblical scholars know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the gospel writers were evangelicals. When they wrote the gospel narratives, they had no intention of merely recounting historical facts -- they were each written to persuade a certain group of people that the still-rising Christianity was a true and divine religion. They were intended as vehicles of proclamation, not historical documents. We know that today's evangelicals are somewhat flexible with the truth (to put it politely). Why would evangelicals in the first century CE be any different?

3. How can the resurrection story be credible without any eyewitnesses?

No, the gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. The gospels are called the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but in fact they were given these titles long after they were written. We don't know who the actual gospel writers were. We do know that the earliest gospel was Mark, and that was written around the year 70 or later -- about 40 years after the purported resurrection. Given the average human lifespan in first century Palestine, it is not likely that any of the actual disciples, if they themselves existed, were still alive at that time.

The only firsthand eyewitness account we have of a post-resurrection appearance is that of Paul, and according to Acts, this "appearance" consisted only of a flash of light voice. This is consistent with a number of natural phenomena, including an epileptic seizure. Do you call this reliable?

4. How do we know there was an empty tomb?

There is no reason to think that the empty tomb story became part of Christian lore until it appeared in Mark. Paul and the other early Christian letter writers, for instance, made absolutely no mention of it in their letters, even though it would have been to their advantage to do so.

5. What independent confirmation do we have that any of this happened?

No Jewish, pagan or secular sources confirm the empty tomb or the appearances, or even that anyone of the time claimed to have witnessed an empty tomb or an appearance. How could that be if such a miraculous event really did occur?

Because the Resurrection is such an important doctrine, a lot of ink has been spilled by Christian apologists in trying to prove that it actually happened. In the third and final post dealing with the Resurrection, I will deal with several of the common arguments that Christians make to defend the Resurrection. I will then the two most important questions of all on this subject.


  1. I enjoyed the post: this thought dominated my thoughts while I read your post.

    It is, or should be, common knowledge that when someone is trying to sell you something they can not be trusted without more evidence than words alone.

  2. I would like to suggest that MacGuyver Jr. put a link on the sidebar to the tag page concerning this series - it's good stuff, and we should have access to the whole thing at once.


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