“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” 1 Corinthians 15:17,19
This week we celebrate the very cornerstone of the Christian faith- the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is not just a minor doctrinal point, but it is the string that holds Christianity. Cut that string and the historic Christian faith falls and crumbles! Attesting to this Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” Consequently, those who have been antagonistic to Christianity have tried to attack the historicity of the resurrection. However, their attempts have been in vain. The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. All the naturalistic explanations have been shown to be weak at best.
So, what I have seen through personal debates and anti-Christian writings, has been an attack against the reliability of the New Testament documents themselves. What these skeptics suggest is that the gospel accounts for the resurrection of Jesus were fabricated. As Dan Brown communicates in his book The Da Vinci Code, “the church has engaged in the greatest cover-up in human history.” Indeed, if Jesus did not actually and physically arise from the dead, and the New Testament writers were engaged in a scheme, then the Church is guilty of misleading millions of souls astray. So, let’s examine the possibility that the writers of the gospels were making up a story about the resurrection and were deliberately trying to pull off the biggest con job in human history.
Suppose you concocted some story and were trying to get people to believe it. Are there some certain things you would and wouldn’t do? I’d like you to consider that question over the next two days as I use it to examine the possibility that the gospels were made up for the purpose of deceiving. In these two posts I will list seven things that a person would not do if they were trying to get people to believe their lie. Let’s look at the first three today.
- I would wait a considerable amount of time after the supposed events before conveying or publishing my account.
Suppose I announced publicly that I played golf with Tiger Woods at Pelican Hill Golf Course. During the round I hit the longest drive Tiger had ever seen, made a hole-in-one and set a new course record. As long as Tiger and any other witnesses were living, my credibility could easily be called into question. Likewise, the gospel writer’s assertions about the resurrection could have been easily refuted if in fact they were not true. Wouldn’t it be better to write well after the event, so potential eyewitnesses would be harder to contact? What’s the case with the gospel accounts of the resurrection? In Acts 2 we find Peter in Jerusalem (The very streets were the supposed resurrection took place) preaching about Jesus’ resurrection only fifty days after the event! Shouldn’t he have waited until potential hostile witnesses had moved or died?
In addition, we have a very early Christian creed recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8,
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Incredibly, scholars of various stripes agree that this creed can be dated to within three to eight years of the crucifixion itself. Eminent scholar Joachim Jeremias calls this creed “the earliest tradition of all.” Greco-Roman classical historian A.N. Sherwin White argues that it would be unprecedented historically for legend to have grown up that fast.” So, within a short period of time after the supposed resurrection of Jesus you have his followers conveying in speech and writing that he had risen. One just wouldn’t expect this if they were trying to convince people of its truthfulness.
- I would publish my account far from the place where it supposedly happened.
Dr. William Lane Craig writes, “One of the most amazing facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection was that it originated in the very city where Jesus was crucified. The Christian faith did not come to exist in some distant city, far from eyewitnesses who knew of Jesus’ death and burial. No, it came into being in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified, under the very eyes of its enemies.”
Keep in mind that facts were not easily verifiable in the first century. They didn’t have the capability of phone calls, faxes, Internet research or CNN. So, if one of the first century disciples of Christ were going to fabricate the resurrection of Jesus why not do it in South Africa, Australia or some other far removed region? Remember, Peter preached on Pentecost in the very streets where the purported resurrection took place (Acts 2). This is not something that one would expect if the followers of Christ were making this story up.
- I would select my “witnesses” very carefully.
Imagine you’re trying to convince someone of an event that really didn’t happen. Would you use the names of people, especially prominent people, which could be easily checked out? Let’s use that Tiger Woods illustration again. If I had invented that story I would have said I did all of those incredible feats, but I would not say Tiger Woods witnessed it. Why? Everyone knows of Tiger. My “facts” would be refuted by his testimony.
But what do we see in the gospel accounts? No less than 16 specific names are given as eyewitnesses. One of those names was Joseph of Arimathea. He was part of the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43). To the Jews, the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin was comparable to our Supreme Court of the United States today. J. P. Moreland writes, “No one could have invented such a person who did not exist and say he was on the Sanhedrin if such were not the case.”
Another noteworthy point is that in each of the four gospels women are said to have been the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. In 21st century America we might say, “So what?” But, in 1st century Jewish culture it would have been a big deal. According to the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Not a Christian) a woman’s testimony was not considered valid in a Jewish court of law. Josephus writes, “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity [lightness of mind] and boldness of their gender…” (Antiquities 4.8.15).
If the gospel writers were only making up the story of the resurrection then why would they use women as their key eyewitnesses knowing that their testimony would automatically be questioned? Moreover, the gospels record Mary Magdalene as one of the eyewitnesses. Not only was she a woman but also Luke mentions that she had previously been delivered of seven demons! (Luke 8:2) If you’re trying to convince 1st century Jewish men of a resurrected Jesus then you’re not going to use women as your primary eyewitnesses and you’re certainly not going to use a previously demon possessed woman as a prime eyewitness. Yet, that’s exactly what the gospel writers did. Perhaps women really did witness Jesus raised from the dead.
I’m no mind reader or prophet but I can imagine what some of you are thinking about now. Some of you are thinking, “Who cares? I believe in Christianity and it helps me live my life. This is all that matters.” If that’s you then let me point you to the words of Jesus. He said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) In verse 21 John makes a parenthetical statement that says that Jesus was speaking about His body and not the actual temple in Jerusalem. If Jesus’ statement is not really true then Jesus is a liar or a madman. In either instance it disqualifies Jesus as the Savior of the world or even anyone that’s worthy of our allegiance. To reiterate Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”
Until tomorrow, may God richly bless you as you walk in the power of the Risen Savior Jesus Christ!
Pastor Kurt Koerth