Christian Living

The Resurrection. Reality or Hoax? Part 1: Examining Objections From Skeptics

I am of the strong opinion the resurrection of Christ is the single most important event not just for Christianity but in all of human history.  It is a lightning rod issue with many competing theories, views, and outright outlandish claims.  Many of these objections and disputes will be examined here, but one thing that must be clear is the importance and reality of the resurrection if it really occurred.  To paraphrase the great C.S. Lewis, either it is of supreme importance or no importance, but certainly it cannot be at any level only moderately important.

Within the Christian worldview there are countless pieces of evidence to give an answer for those who take the skeptical view. Whether one uses science to discuss the rational ideology of a Creator, archaeology to corroborate the reality of the biblical narrative, or the vast amount of historical texts and accounts to demonstrate the truth of the Christian worldview, there is and will always be a way to answer the cynic. Considering the array of information and evidence which exists, the best may still be the resurrection. It sounds like lunacy at first because people just do not arise from the dead do they? However, when the evidence is compiled and the proverbial dust settles there is great assurance the resurrection was not a hoax, hallucination, or a lie, but it was, in fact, a real historical event. This paper will seek to examine the best case for the resurrection as well as answer objections.

The importance of the resurrection cannot be overestimated. It is the single most important event in all of human history. Christians believe in the resurrection as the very cornerstone for their beliefs because for the Christian, the resurrection is not just a claim, but it is an actual event which changed everything. DeYoung notes, “There has been no more important even in history than the resurrection of the Son of God. And don’t overlook the word history in that last sentence. Christianity is an historical religion.”[1]

As has already been mentioned, the skeptic will in all likelihood not merely take the resurrection as fact upon first glance. The argument against such an event usually exists on the plane of improbability. After all, when people die they are mourned and buried, and this seems to be conclusive. The Christian does not deny this claim, and rather agrees people do not simply rest underground for a period and casually get up and resume life. It would certainly seem as if the Christian at this point is in checkmate with no further moves to play, but in fact there has been a small but wildly critical misunderstanding between the skeptic and the Christian.

While no rational person, Christian or otherwise, affirms the normality of people just dying and returning, the Christian attests Jesus was no ordinary person, and therefore his resurrection was and is not only plausible but factual. In other words, “a Christian will see that there is a defensible case for believing that God’s raising Jesus from the dead to live an unending life of glory is not the hasty act of a celestial conjurer but a rational consequence of who Jesus actually was.”[2]

Jesus is set apart from other people because while he was a real living breathing human being (which history in great detail affirms), he was also fully God. The New Testament is replete with examples of Jesus claiming deity as well as numerous other witnesses affirming the same.

Jesus performed miracles which nobody else was able to perform, but could these accounts not simply be revisionist history? It does not seem likely,

“Opponents of Jesus outside of Scripture also testify to his miracles. The Jewish Talmud charged that Jesus ‘practiced magic.’ Celsus, a strong opponent of Christianity, later repeated that claim. The Jewish historian Josephus also reported that Jesus was ‘a doer of wonderful works.’”[3] While it is certainly clear Jesus claimed to be God, what should also be clear is the affirmation of those who stood against Jesus. Nicodemus and other leaders who were vehemently angry and opposed to Jesus admitted he was a teacher from God (John 3:2), but it was not just the Jewish antagonism which made such claims as is evidenced by polytheistic centurion who acknowledged Jesus’ godhood (Matthews 27:54).[4]

It is important to establish the dual nature of Christ as both fully God and fully man (hypostatic union), and once this understanding has been reached then it becomes clear Jesus was not like any other person who ever lived or will ever live. Therefore, the resurrection does not seem nearly as far-fetched when one considers the nature of the one who was resurrected. Still, questions loom for the skeptic, and there to meet them is a mountain of substantiation.

Perhaps one of the best evidential components for the reality of the resurrection is also seemingly one of the most common sense areas: the tomb was empty. When someone in the past or present (and presumably in the future) buries a loved one, there is no debate wherever this person is interred will become the final resting place for their body. It would be alarming and unnerving to visit a cemetery and find this loved one was no longer a resident there, but this is precisely what occurred with Jesus. All historical claims and eyewitness accounts confirm the tomb in which Jesus was placed was vacant afterward.

It is critical this detail does not go discounted. The empty tomb provides strong evidence of the resurrection claim, and in fact, “it demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ was not a purely inward, interior, or subjective event, but something which left a mark upon history.”[5] The empty tomb is not merely speculative, but it is an actual and factual part of history that Jesus is not in the tomb. Now of course there are still many theories skeptics can appeal to in order to refute the empty tomb as any real tangible evidence for the resurrection.

Among the most common of these refutations is the body was moved or stolen. One theory proclaims either the Jewish or Roman authorities moved the body of Jesus to a different location, or this led the disciples to wrong surmise the resurrection of Jesus occurred. This theory does not have any data which would indicate or prove its validity, and moreover the evidence evinces the substantiation of the empty tomb as a miraculous event. Geisler verifies this by writing,

If the Romans or the Sanhedrin had the body, why did they accuse the disciples of stealing it (Matt. 28:11-15)? Such a charge would have been senseless. And if the opponents of Christianity had the body, why didn’t they produce it to stop the resurrection story? The reaction of the authorities reveals that they did not know where the body was. They continually resisted the apostles’ teaching but never attempted to refute it.[6]

It makes no sense for either of these authorities to have moved the body, and then later be unable to confirm where it was moved. If the empty tomb was not a result of the resurrection then all either the Sanhedrin or Romans need to do was produced Jesus’ body in order to completely and with finality refute the claims of something supernatural.

Still others claim it was the disciples of Jesus who moved his body in order to claim a miraculous resurrection and propagate their new religion, but this too has many fatal flaws. It is important to keep in mind the apostles were not soldiers, but the Roman centurions most certainly were well trained, efficient, and when necessary brutally unrelenting in their military prowess. It was these soldiers with whom the task of guarding the tomb of Jesus would have fallen.

Jesus was easily the most polarizing figure to have ever lived. As a response to fear his followers would move his body in order to make wild claims, the Romans were instructed to guard Jesus’ tomb with veracity. It would be unthinkable for these disciples of Jesus, who were cowering in fear about being killed themselves, would be able to summon unspeakable courage and physically overcome trained soldiers. Macfarland expands, “To think that a group of rag-tag Jewish fishermen could have overcome the heavily armed temple guard, break the seal on the tomb, roll away the huge stone, and steal the body of Jesus without anyone knowing about it defies belief.”[7]

Furthermore, if the disciples were theoretically able to overtake the Roman guard and successfully steal the body of Jesus, were they willing to die for something they knew were certainly duplicitous claims? It again does not seem likely. Not only that, but if they did steal the body successfully, where did they conceal it? These men were hiding in fear because they were concerned they would share Jesus’ fate in death, but magically their bravery grows and they find themselves nonplussed by the thought of death after making edicts about a man defeating death. Frame recognizes this as well when he says, “If the disciples had stolen the body, where did they put it? Some of them might have avoided death by revealing the hiding place, but they did not. If the event were a fraud, why were Christians willing to die for it?”[8]

It would seem like a major stretch for a person to willingly die for a claim which would be not only unsubstantiated but which is entirely fabricated as well. D.A. Carson surmises,

If you think early Christians made this up or were somehow hoodwinked or fell victims to mass psychology of some sort, it is hard to explain why they were willing to die for their faith. If the resurrection is a fairy story a bit like ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ my question is, ‘How many have offered to die for Hansel and Gretel?’ But the early Christians were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had seen him, touched him, handled him, eat with him, after he had risen from the dead – and they were transformed by him.[9]

[1] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 91.

[2] John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief, Kindle ed (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 88.

[3] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 225-226.

[4] Norman L. Geisler and Patty Tunnicliffe, Reasons for Belief: Easy-to-Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 139.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 401.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 487.

[7] Alex Macfarland and Elmer Towns, 10 Questions Every Christian Must Answer (Nashville: B&​H Publishing Group, 2011), 98.

[8] John M. Frame, Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 76.

[9] D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Pace in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 163.

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