Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus – Part 7

I think the best way to make a case for my skeptical view of the resurrection, is to develop a dilemma, following the lead of the great Enlightenment skeptic David Hume.

The main question at issue is: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? But at the crux of my skeptical argument will be the following claim:

(JAW) Jesus of Nazareth was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday.

By ‘the first Easter Sunday’ I mean the Sunday immediately following the Friday of the Passover week when Jesus was allegedly crucified (approximately 30 CE).

There are two possibilities that need to be considered:

1. (JAW) is true.

2. (JAW) is not true.


If we suppose (1) to be the case, then building an argument for skepticism about the resurrection will be tough, like pushing a boulder uphill. If we suppose (2) to be the case, then building an argument for skepticism will be easier, like rolling a boulder downhill. I believe a good argument for skepticism about the resurrection can be made on either supposition, and if so, then an overall case for skepticism can be based on the following either/or statement:

3. Either (JAW) is true or it is not true.

To get started, I will take on the apparently easier task of building an argument for skepticism about the resurrection based on the supposition that (JAW) is not true. If I am successful in rolling the big rock down the hill, then I will take on the more challenging task of making an argument for skepticism based on the supposition that (JAW) is true.

There is no immediately obvious problem with the meaningfulness or coherence of (JAW) or the negation of (JAW), so if we suppose (2), the claim that (JAW) is not true, it appears that we can infer that (JAW) is false:

4. (JAW) is false.

However, if there were no such person as Jesus of Nazareth, if Jesus was just a legend, then there would be a problem with (JAW) being a proposition. In that case we could say that (2) was correct, but that (4) would not be correct, since (JAW) would not make a statement that is either true or false. If Jesus was just a legend, then there would be no referent for the name ‘Jesus’ in (JAW).

So, one of the ways in which (2) might be true, is if there were no actual historical person who was Jesus of Nazareth. But if Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical person, then the only way that (2) could be correct, would be for (4) to be correct, that is to say, (JAW) would have to be false.

I’m not a big supporter of the theory that Jesus is a legend. But given that our earliest writings about Jesus are by Paul, and given that Paul probably never set eyes on the historical Jesus, on Jesus prior to Easter Sunday, and given that the earliest of the four Gospels is Mark, composed about four decades after the alleged ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, and given that Mark was probably not an eyewitness of the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, I don’t think one can rule out the theory that Jesus is just a legend.

I believe it is very probable that Jesus was an historical person, but the idea that there is a small but significant chance that Jesus was a legend seems correct to me. I suggest that, based on the questionable nature of our earliest historical sources, there is about a 1 in 10 chance that Jesus was a legend, and about 9 chances in 10 that Jesus was an actual historical person.

But if there is a probability of about .9 that Jesus was an actual historical person, then the most likely way that (2) would be true, would be for (4) to be true, that is, for (JAW) to be false.

What are the different ways that (JAW) could be false? There are three logical possibilities:

A. Jesus was not alive on the first Easter Sunday.
B. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but did not walk at all that day.
C. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but was walking only with assistance from others.

We need to think about the relative likelihood of each of these possibilities, and also about the implications of each possibility in relation to skepticism about the resurrection.

INDEX of Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus posts:

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13609656346736636990 Luke Talley

    Hey Bradley,

    Thanks for the post. Here are some thoughts I had after reading it. First and foremost, an in-depth examination of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of any skeptics search for truth. Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 15 are certainly true. If the Resurrection is not true, then Christians are to be the most pitied in the world. They are wasting their lives worshipping, serving, and structuring their entire lives around a God who is still in the grave.

    However, rather than prolonging the argument into several different considerations, I think you could have just stopped at the beginning when you considered that either the Resurrection happened or it didn't. This is the question before all of us.

    Regarding the historicity of Jesus, I would be very skeptical of anyone who would seek to say that Jesus Christ was a legend. Indeed, I would be skeptical of anyone who would even insinuate that Jesus being legend was even a possibility. An honest evaluation of history and the conclusions of a majority of respected historians would attest to the fact that he was a real man, reportedly born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, who gathered a following of Jews that reportedly held him to be the Messiah, who was crucified on a Roman cross, and reportedly resurrected, and subsequently worshipped as the Christ before mentioned in the OT.

    I also think it is unnecessary to discount the New Testament documents as obsolete in attesting to Jesus just because they are held as "religious documents." That is a cop out in my opinion. The historical data mentioned in the Gospels and especially within Acts has held up to the historical barrage of so many critics. We have more trustable historical documentation in the Gospels than we do of any other work written in that time period.

    If you insist on looking to extra-biblical sources, you still have the attestation of Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, and I could go on. How come those guys were not mentioned in your consideration of the historical reliability of Jesus as an actual man of history? You may agree with me, but I just did not get that sense in your post.

    Finally, I would not even entertain the thought of Jesus surviving the scourge, crucifixion, and stabbing in the side, by the Romans. The Romans were masters of execution. They had been perfecting it for years by the time Jesus came to the cross. He was dead. He did not walk away, he was not helped, he was dead.

    Even though your post was not chiefly about this part of the Resurrection, I do think it needs to be dealt with. No one disagrees that the tomb was empty. With that being the case, the question is not whether it was empty, but what caused it to be empty. That is your starting point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Luke Talley said…

    Regarding the historicity of Jesus, I would be very skeptical of anyone who would seek to say that Jesus Christ was a legend. Indeed, I would be skeptical of anyone who would even insinuate that Jesus being legend was even a possibility. An honest evaluation of history and the conclusions of a majority of respected historians would attest to the fact that he was a real man, reportedly born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, who gathered a following of Jews that reportedly held him to be the Messiah, who was crucified on a Roman cross, and reportedly resurrected, and subsequently worshipped as the Christ before mentioned in the OT.

    ==============
    Response:

    I agree that the evidence favors the historicity of Jesus.

    However, the primary historical sources are the letters of Paul, the four Gospels, and Acts. These sources have serious problems and they fall short of being historically reliable sources. Thus, my view is that it is unreasonable to rule out the theory that Jesus is a legend, even if the theory is improbable relative to the theory that Jesus was an historical person.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Luke Talley said…

    If you insist on looking to extra-biblical sources, you still have the attestation of Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, and I could go on. How come those guys were not mentioned in your consideration of the historical reliability of Jesus as an actual man of history?
    ==========

    Response:

    An adequate evaluation of the theory that Jesus was a legend would require a book of about 200 pages or more, and it would include consideration of non-biblical sources, such as those you mention.

    I don't plan to argue (to any significant extent) for my views on the theory that Jesus was legend, but I'm sure that issues of the historical reliability of the Gospels will come up more than once as I attempt to develop a case for skepticism about the resurrection.

    So, stick around and raise those sorts of objections when it seems appropriate to do so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Luke Talley said…

    Finally, I would not even entertain the thought of Jesus surviving the scourge, crucifixion, and stabbing in the side, by the Romans. The Romans were masters of execution. They had been perfecting it for years by the time Jesus came to the cross. He was dead. He did not walk away, he was not helped, he was dead.
    ==============
    Response:

    Luke, you are make several historical assumptions here that I believe to be subject to reasonable doubt.

    If Jesus suffered the sort of brutality, wounds, and injuries that were portrayed in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, then it would be unlikely that Jesus would survive that ordeal.

    However, the cultural imagery surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus rests on a combination of legend and questionable historical assumptions.

    Furthermore, if I grant for the sake of argument the supposition that Jesus was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday, then that supposition provides very powerful evidence against the claim that Jesus died on the cross, and also against the claim that Jesus was nailed to the cross, and against the claim that Jesus was severely scourged, and against the claim that Jesus was pierced in his heart with a spear.

    Since these key claims about Jesus' crucifixion are all subject to reasonable historical doubts in the first place, as soon as I grant the supposition of (JAW), the claims about severe, near-fatal injuries being inflicted on Jesus become very uncertain, and the conjuction of those claims becomes improbable, along with the claim that Jesus died on the cross.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12604770421918477184 Kentexman

    Bradley,

    Thanks for the post! But I'm curious about a couple of things . How and why does someone so readily dismiss the historcity of the Bible? And the second question to this is if the Bible should be dismissed, then why even worry about some guy named Jesus that lived over 2000 years ago? Withouth the Bible, then Jesus is just a legend like the Greek gods of that period.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Kentexman

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Kentexman said…

    How and why does someone so readily dismiss the historcity of the Bible? And the second question to this is if the Bible should be dismissed, then why even worry about some guy named Jesus that lived over 2000 years ago? Withouth the Bible, then Jesus is just a legend like the Greek gods of that period.

    ==========
    Response:

    Your comments strike me as the product of black-or-white thinking.

    There are conservative evangelical Christians who believe every detail of the Gospels is 100% accurate, and there are skeptics who believe that the Gospels are 100% fiction.

    But there are many possible points of view between these two extremes. I reject both extreme views of the Gospels. I have a view much closer to that of most mainstream bible scholars who study the Gospels and the life of Jesus. Namely, there is a good deal of history in the Gospels combined with a good deal of fiction.

    Furthermore, it ain't easy to determine which parts are fiction and which are fact. But if one carefully studies these documents, one can formulate some claims about Jesus that are very probably true, some claims that more probable than not, and some have some degree of probability.

    Well-informed, intelligent, critical thinking Gospel scholars and Jesus scholars think in terms like these, and I generally follow the thinking of such mainstream scholars.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04357647201205151852 Thomas

    Luke Talley wrote:

    "First and foremost, an in-depth examination of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of any skeptics search for truth. Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 15 are certainly true."

    I think that's beggining the question. I'm not sure what reason there is to start off evaluating the resurrection. Why that miracle claim? Why not, say, Joseph Smith's golden tablets, which in my opinion, has far better evidence in favor of it? Why not evaluate whether Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament requirements for being the messiah in the first place- if not, resurrection or not, he's still not the messiah.

    In other words, the resurrection, even if it were true, in itself does not and can not prove Christianity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04357647201205151852 Thomas

    Re: my last point- I would direct readers to Dale Allison's resurrecting jesus. He makes the simple point that one's evaluation of the resurrection claim is not separate from his or her evaluation of the pre-easter Jesus. That is, not only does obviously one's worldview color their opinion, but jesus' claimed resurrection did not occur in a bubble- he made claims to be the hebrew god and their messiah, and the fulfillment of their prophetic teachings. So to evaluate the resurrection claims without using this information as a lens in which to view it is missing the overall picture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16428187448851279866 Daily Coffee

    Thanks for you post!
    While the Resurrection does not directly prove Christianity it does provide grounding in Christianity’s claims and forms the foundation of Christian beliefs. The question posed in this post is pertinent to both Christians and skeptics. Jesus did fulfill many OT prophecies and, indeed, claimed himself to be the Messiah.
    In answering the question separate from the accounts found within the texts of the NT, one must keep in mind the historical facts of the day, that is, the brutal nature of Roman execution. Romans were masters when it came to the craft of crucifixion. The crucifixion was a cruel, gruesome process with one intention, namely the death of the criminal. Jesus wore such a title and bore such a punishment. There can be no argument here. However, the specifics of the crucifixion may be in question, such as whether Christ was pierced in his heart or side and the depravity of his scourging. Nonetheless, Jesus was executed faithfully by the Romans. Jesus was dead.
    The real question comes in what happened that first Easter morning. One can contend that Christ had risen from the dead due to the multitude of individuals who testify to seeing the resurrected Christ and the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb. Speculation toward whether or not Jesus needed assistance in walking around that first morning is asking the wrong question, I find. The event of Jesus’ resurrection and its’ validity alone carries enough weight to entice all of our inquiry and research. The assistance Jesus required shortly thereafter may play an ,albeit important, role in one’s understanding of the resurrection, but cannot sway one from finding the truth concerning this foundational event in human history. One must evaluate the life of Jesus – his claims, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection to properly establish an understanding and answer such an important question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Thomas said…

    Re: my last point- I would direct readers to Dale Allison's resurrecting jesus. He makes the simple point that one's evaluation of the resurrection claim is not separate from his or her evaluation of the pre-easter Jesus.
    ===============
    Response:

    I agree. Even if it could be established that Jesus rose from the dead, there are other considerations that need to be weighed in the balance concerning the belief that Jesus was God incarnate and that the teachings of Jesus (as found in the Gospels) express ideas that come from God.

    Also, if we have good reason to doubt that Jesus was God incarnate, or that his teachings express ideas that come from God, then that provides some evidence against the resurrection, and certainly provides evidence against the claim that GOD raised Jesus from the dead.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16901780479265480819 seedster

    Standing on the sovereignty of God necessarily means denying the self. Am I effectively ministering the Gospel? is the question that should be on the heart of every Christian. When God is loved for His sovereignty, and when God’s glory is recognized as being the single most important thing in the entire universe, then it is at this point that any argument engaged in or any war waged is a good one, one that exalts Christ and His glorious power and might. I want to apologize on behalf of the multitudes of people who are Christians, who have more or less hurt your understanding of the love of Christ. I want to be clear that your heavenly Father loves you and His desire is for His people to know and love Him, to enjoy Him forever. God has called us to enjoy Him forever, and this is made possible only through Christ. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    seedster said…

    I want to apologize on behalf of the multitudes of people who are Christians, who have more or less hurt your understanding of the love of Christ.
    ===============
    Response:

    My understanding of Jesus and Christianity is only partially based on what I have heard and read from Christian ministers, apologists, theologians, evangelists, and bible scholars.

    I was a believer myself for several years, and I studied the Bible regularly during those years, as well as doing a fair amount of study since I left Christianity behind. So, I also have knowledge of the teachings and ministry of Jesus and Paul that is somewhat independent of the things that modern Christians say about Jesus and Paul.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X