This is the season when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just in time for this season, I released a new apologetics book. Adapted for this article, you can see a sneak preview of the book from chapter 16. Before we get the sample, however, let’s just introduce the book. The title and subtitle really do encapsulate the book’s content well: Revolution: How Christianity Mirrors Reality, Changes the World, and Impacts You. In other words, Christianity seems to match reality in such a way that, if we follow it’s principles, we see progress. For example, Christianity gave rise to the scientific enterprise, to the creation of the free market system, and to the abolishment of western slavery. In addition, the finds of the scientific enterprise seem to point back to God’s existence. (Read more about the new book and how to get your copy.)
Without Jesus of Nazareth, however, these things would not be true. Jesus is the central figure of all humanity, the foundation of Christianity. Now, most don’t doubt His life and death, but secular society challenges Jesus’ resurrection. Paul of Tarsus, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, claims that without Jesus’ resurrection, a Christian’s hope would be void. In other words, the resurrection is the central thread that holds up Christianity. Snip that thread and Christianity will fall away. While Paul named many eyewitnesses and said there were more who saw the resurrected Christ, many still would like to give naturalistic reasons. Let’s analyze some of those reasons and see if they even make sense.
Maybe the body of Jesus was stolen! This is one of the oldest in the book, literally. This is what the original biographers of Jesus were arguing against in the first century. However, it just doesn’t make sense, and here’s why.
If the Jews or Romans stole the body, Christianity would obviously have been squashed; just produce the body to show that the claim of resurrection was false. If the early Christians stole the body, many of them then went to their deaths knowing the lie of His resurrection. Why would so many of the leaders be willing to die for the cause if the central tenet was a lie, and they know it?
Also, if it really was a conspiracy, it would be immensely likely that one or more of them would have revealed it to get out of being killed. J. Warner Wallace, a retired homicide detective gives five points on how to successfully pull off a conspiracy:
- Low Numbers of Co-Conspirators: “The first thing you need to successfully conspire about a claim is the lowest number of co-conspirators. It’s a lot easier for two people to tell a lie and keep a secret than it is for twenty-two, or two hundred and twenty-two.”
- Short Time: “Similarly, successful conspiracies are usually held for the shortest possible time. It’s a lot easier to tell a lie and keep a secret for a day than for a week, a month, or a year.”
- Good Communication: “Thirdly, successful conspiracies require the best possible communication between co-conspirators. If I separate two conspirators, and ask one for great detail related to the claim, the other conspirators need to know exactly what the first one said, in all its intricate detail, if they want to be consistent. That requires excellent communication between conspirators to make sure everyone knows what the others are saying.”
- Close Relationships: “In addition, close relationships are critical. If a mother and son are involved in a conspiracy, for example, there’s a good chance no one’s going to want to talk to you at all.”
- Low Pressure: “Finally, low pressure, very low pressure on a conspiracy is crucial. If no one’s asking any questions, there’s a much better chance for the conspiracy to succeed.”
Wallace goes on to assess the resurrection against these five principles:
As you look at these five attributes of conspiracies, you quickly recognize that none of them are present in the alleged ‘Christian conspiracy’. According to Paul (in his letter to the Corinthian church), hundreds of people saw Jesus after the Resurrection, all on the same day. There were over one hundred eligible eyewitnesses in the upper room, for example, in Acts chapter one. There are way too many conspirators, holding the lie together for nearly six decades, separated by thousands of miles, without any way to communicate back and forth to one another, under incredible high 24[-hour] pressure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to pull off a conspiracy, but only if the attributes I’ve described are present. If, for example, you know of a conspiracy, even an historic conspiracy, it wasn’t successful, by definition. Successful conspiracies are unrevealed, and the claim of a successful ‘Christian conspiracy’ is unsupported. None of the co-conspirators ever changed their story about Jesus.
Wallace also gives one main reason for a conspiracy: motivation. He gives the three main motivators that are the basis of most all conspiracies:
It really comes down to motivation. Let me explain that. When investigating a potential lie, we have to ask: ‘Why would this person (or persons) lie?’ Lies are always driven by the same three motivations; it always comes down to money, sex, or power. If I’m trying to gain something in one of those three areas, I may be motivated to do something I should not do or say something I shouldn’t say.
Wallace goes on to contrast this with Jesus’ followers:
So, if the disciples are lying, what is motivating them to do so? Did they gain something in any of these three areas? We have no other ancient record related to the 12 apostles, for example, describing as gaining some advantage in these three areas. Instead, every ancient record we have describes them being martyred for what they said they saw. I think those two things: a lack of motive and a lack of the essential attributes of a successful conspiracy, led me, as a skeptic to conclude the claims of the apostles were not part of an elaborate conspiracy. It’s just not reasonable.
The last reason this hypothesis is not reasonable is because it goes against the teachings of the early Christians. Why would the main leaders of Christianity lie when that was totally against their message and their character?
Wrong tomb hypothesis
Maybe the followers of Jesus went to the wrong tomb! Well, if this was true, why didn’t the Romans or Jews just point them to the correct tomb and show them the body? Plus, this makes everyone out to be extremely stupid; losing the place where Jesus was buried within days of His death seems quite unlikely. This hypothesis is more than crazy, as you can see.
Maybe those who saw Jesus were just hallucinating; maybe it was just a mass hallucination! If this was the case, it would have been the first and only known mass hallucination in history. Remember, there were more than five-hundred people who testified as seeing the risen Christ. Mass hallucination of over five-hundred people would have been just as big of a miracle, or bigger, than Jesus’ Resurrection. A resurrection actually seems more rational, especially when we look at the other evidence.
Maybe Jesus never died! Maybe He was just so beat up that it looked like He died, but in reality, He recovered? Well, that is an explanation that may work, but let’s think about it a little. First, a Roman centurion would be quite the credible source to affirm one’s death. If there was one thing Roman soldiers were good at, it was killing people. I’m quite sure he knew a dead man when he saw one.
Third, how could one survive with all those wounds for three days in a dark, cold, grave (with no medical care, no food and no water)? Fourth, would I really believe that a man that was in extreme need for an ambulance and a surgical team would be worthy of worship as deity? I don’t think so.
Moved body hypothesis
Maybe the authorities moved the body! Well, if this was the case, why didn’t the authorities just produce the body when Christianity was birthed and disturbed the peace? Plus, it was not just the empty tomb that convinced the disciples, but rather His resurrected appearances.
Above, I gave five possible explanations besides a resurrection and rationally assessed them. None are more plausible or even possible than what the text already claims, His resurrection. Why not put aside our biases and follow the evidence? You see, I really do think that this thread that holds up Christianity, Jesus’ resurrection, is not just any thread. Rather, it seems to be a thread made of non-earthly material. As your snippers touch that thread, your snippers explode.
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