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Appendix – Additional sections

Discussion Groups

Possible discussion questions for "The Resurrection: Hoax or History"

- List three reasons why the resurrection is important?
- Can a person still be a Christian and not believe in an actual, historical resurrection?
- What are the alternatives to Jesus having risen from the dead? Which of these alternatives are covered in this section, which are covered in the rest of the apologetic study, and which are not covered at all?
- What do you think are the three main reasons for concluding that the swoon theory is false? Why?
- What do you think are the three main reasons for concluding that the conspiracy theory is false? Why?
- What do you think are the three main reasons for concluding that the hallucination theory is false? Why?
- Do you think it is permissible for the arguments against the hallucination, and swoon theory to make use of the New Testament text?
- Could there be another alternative to Jesus having risen – perhaps one that combines a couple of theories? What evidence can you think of that is for and against these alternatives?
- What do you think are the three main reasons for concluding that the myth theory is false? Why?
- What evidence is there in support of the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus?
- What do you think of the statement “No matter how great the evidence for the truth of the resurrection - people are simply not prepared to surrender control of their life to God”
- How could you present the argument for the resurrection, simply and clearly, to someone else?

 

The Resurrection: Hoax or History?

Every sermon preached by every Christian in the New Testament centers on the resurrection. The message that flashed across the ancient world, set hearts on fire, changed lives and turned the world upside down was not “love your neighbour.” Every morally sane person already knew that; it was not news. The news was that a man who claimed to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the world had risen from the dead. [1 p. 176]

The importance of the Resurrection

  • Jesus Christ, and his historical resurrection from the dead forms the factual foundation upon which Christianity is based. [19] As Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” – 1 Corinthians 15:14

To think about: Can a person still be a Christian and not believe in an actual, historical resurrection?

  • The resurrection is of crucial practical importance because it completes our salvation. Jesus came to save us from sin and its consequence, spiritual separation from God (spiritual death - Romans 6:23). [1 p. 177]

  • The resurrection also sharply distinguishes Jesus from all other religious founder. The bones of Abraham and Muhammad and Buddha are all still here on earth. Jesus’ tomb is empty. [1 p. 177]

  • If Jesus really rose from the dead, then it validates his claim to be divine and not merely human. [1 p. 176]

    If Jesus Christ is God, then when he died on the cross, he provided a means for God and humans to be reconciled. Nothing in history could be more important to every person on earth than that. It also has tremendous implications for us now. For if Jesus Christ is God, then, since he is omnipotent and present right now, he can transform you and your life right now as nothing and no one else possibly can. If Christ is divine, he has right to our entire lives, including our inner life and out thoughts. If Christ is divine, our absolute obligation is to believe everything he says and obey everything he commands. [1 p. 152]

The Argument for the Resurrection

What we do not need to presuppose [1 p. 181]

  1. the New Testament is infallible / divinely inspired or even true

  2. there really was an empty tomb or post resurrection appearances (as recorded)

  3. that miracles happen (note the sceptic must also not presuppose that they do not)

We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies: [1 p. 181]

  1. the existence of the New Testament texts as we have them

  2. the existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today

The question is this: Which theory about what really happened, can account for the data? [1 p. 182]

There are five possible theories: Christianity, hallucinations, myth, conspiracy and swoon. The following is an outline of the argument. [1 p. 182]

	1.	Jesus died
		a)	Jesus rose.........................................Christianity
		b)	Jesus didn’t rise
			i)	the apostles were deceived................Hallucination
			ii)	the apostles were myth-makers.............Myth
			iii)	the apostles were deceivers...............Conspiracy
	2.	Jesus didn’t die............................................Swoon

To think about: Can you think of any other alternatives? How plausible are these alternatives?

Note that we will not consider far-out ideas that responsible historians have never taken seriously. For example, that Jesus was a Martian who came in a flying saucer, or that Jesus never existed (for additional information on this last possibility, see the section on “Did Jesus exist?”) [1 p. 182]

Note that the resurrection is not directly observable, but the data is directly observable. We will attempt to argue that the only possible adequate explanation of this data is the Christian one. [1 p. 182]

By refuting the other theories (Hallucination, Conspiracy, Swoon and Myth) we will have proved the truth of the resurrection. In addition, some evidence supporting the resurrection will also be mentioned. [1 p. 182]

The four non-believing theories shall be examined in the following order: from the simplest, least popular and most easily refuted to the most confusing, most popular and most complexly refuted: first swoon, then conspiracy, then hallucination and finally myth. [1 p. 183]

Jesus didn’t die – The Swoon Theory

Could Jesus have only swooned (fainted) and then later have resuscitated? [1 p. 183]

The following arguments refute this Swoon Theory.

Note that as the swoon theory does not challenge the data in the New Testament texts (It uses them and explains them by swoon rather than resurrection), the data, therefore, is also used in countering the swoon theory. [1 p. 183]

To think about: Do you think the above assumption is valid? Why, or why not?

  • Jesus could not have survived crucifixion

    Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way. This includes bungling a crucifixion. It was never done. [1 p. 183] It would be virtually impossible medically for Jesus to have survived the rigors of his torture and crucifixion, much less not to have died of exposure in the tomb. [19]

  • The Roman soldier was sure that Jesus was dead [1 p. 183]

    The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus' legs, as he did to the other two crucified criminals (John 19:31-33) means the soldier was sure that Jesus was dead. Breaking the legs hastened the death so that corpse could be taken down before the Sabbath (v. 31)

  • Eyewitness testimony confirms a medical condition that results in death [1 p. 183]

    John, an eyewitness, saw blood and water come from Jesus' pierced side (John 19:34-35). This shows that Jesus’ lungs had collapsed and that he had died of asphyxiation.

  • The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed [1 p. 183]

    See John 19:38-42. The body was wrapped in 75 pounds of spices as was the custom. [6 p. 225]

  • The post-resurrection appearances convinced the disciples that Jesus was alive [1 p. 183]

    See John 20:19-29. How could the disciples have been so transformed and confident, if Jesus had merely struggled out of a swoon, in bad need of a doctor? A half-dead, staggering sick man who has just had a narrow escape is not worshiped fearlessly as divine lord and conqueror of death.

  • How where the Roman guards overpowered by a swooning corpse? [1 p. 183]

    If the disciples were involved, they then lied when writing the gospels, which leads to the conspiracy theory (or the myth theory if you hold the NT accounts were altered / created over time)

  • How could a swooning half-dead man have moved the great stone at the door of the tomb? [1 p. 183]

    This question has remained unanswered. The Romans or Jews would not have moved it as it was in both their interests to keep the tomb sealed. The Jews had put the stone there in the first place. The Roman guards would be killed if they let the body ‘escape’.

    What about the Jewish authorities report that the disciples had stolen the body (Matt 28:11-15)? This story is unbelievable, as Roman guards would not fall asleep on a job, as they would lose their lives. Even if they did fall asleep, the crowd and the effort and the noise it would have taken to move an enormous boulder would have wakened them. Furthermore, this objection leads us to the Conspiracy Theory.

  • If Jesus awoke from a swoon, where did he go? [1 p. 184]

    How did he disappear? With a past like Jesus' you would expect to find some data on his post-death life. There is none.

  • Most simply, the Swoon theory necessarily turns into the Conspiracy theory, or the Hallucination theory because the disciples testified that Jesus did not swoon but really died and rose (or Myth theory if they did not really testify to this). [1 p. 184]

Briefly, explain three good reasons for concluding that the swoon theory is false?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The disciples were deceivers – The Conspiracy Theory

If Jesus did not swoon, perhaps he did die, and the disciples deceived people into thinking that he was alive.

The detailed evidence and support for the reliability of the New Testament (including the many reasons why we can conclude that the New Testament accounts do not contain fabrications or lies) refutes this theory. Please the section on “Is Scripture Reliable as a Historical Record?" and in particular "Does the NT contain Gospel Fictions or Lies?"

The following are additional reasons why the disciples could not have made up the whole story.

  • The Jews never produced the corpse [1 p. 186]

    If the resurrection was a hoax, the Jews needed only to produce the corpse and that would have been the end of it. The Jews and Romans were on the ‘same side’, so having access to the body was possible.

    If they couldn’t get the body, because the disciples stole it, how did the disciples do this? If the disciples stole the body, how in the world would unarmed fisherman and peasants overpower the Roman guard, move the stone, and take the body?

  • The disciples could not have gotten away with proclaiming the resurrection in Jerusalem- same time, same place, and full of eyewitnesses to the events- if it was a lie. [1 p. 186]

    The Gospels were written in such a temporal and geographical proximity to the events that they record, that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events. The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true.

  • The conspiracy would have been unearthed by the disciple’s adversaries

    These powerful adversaries, the Jews and the Romans, had both the interest and the power to expose any fraud. Yet, they could not! [1 p. 186]

How could this ‘conspiracy’ or ‘lie’ cause such a transformation? Imagine twelve peasants changing the Roman world with a lie. How did they come up with such a conspiracy – were they the most creative, clever, intelligent fantasists in history – far surpassing Shakespeare, or Tolkien? Who sustained them, what made them act? Even when facing extreme conditions (being ostracized, criticized, rejected, persecuted, martyred, hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions) not one of them confessed to the resurrection being a fake, a lie, or a deliberate deception! [1 p. 185]

If the resurrection was a concocted, conspired lie, it violates all known historical and psychological laws of lying. It is, then, as unscientific, as unrepeatable, unique and untestable as the resurrection itself, but unlike the resurrection, it also goes against all the evidence we do have. [1 p. 186]

Briefly, explain three good reasons for concluding that the conspiracy theory is false?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The disciples were deceived - Hallucination Theory

If you thought you saw a dead man walking and talking, would you not think it more likely that you were hallucinating, rather than that you were seeing correctly? Similarly, could those who saw Jesus have been hallucinating?

The following is a refutation of this Hallucination Theory.

Note that as the hallucination theory does not challenge the data in the New Testament texts (It uses them and explains them by hallucination rather than resurrection), the data, therefore, is also used in countering the hallucination theory.

  • There were too many witnesses for them all to be hallucinating [1 p. 186]

    Hallucinations are private, individual, and subjective. In the situations in which Jesus was seen, this was not the case. Jesus was seen by numerous people: Mary Magdalene, the disciples, two disciples at Emmaus, fishermen, James (his brother or cousin) and 500 hundred people at once (I Corinthians 15:3-8). [1 p. 186]

    When Paul wrote about the witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6, which is dated between 54-57 AD [6 p. 91]) he states that most of these 500 witnesses were still alive, and that any reader could check the truth by questioning them. He could not have done this and gotten away with it, if it were not true, especially considering the power, resources and number of his enemies. [1 p. 187]

  • The five hundred witnesses saw Christ together, at the same time and place [1 p. 187]

    This is even more remarkable than five hundred private “hallucination” at different times and places of the same Jesus. How can five hundred people have the same “hallucination” of a living Jesus (not a vision) at the same time and same place?

  • The appearance of Christ lasted for too long to be a hallucination [1 p. 187] Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. The appearance of Christ lasted for 40 days! (Acts 1:3)

  • Hallucinations usually only happen once, except for the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people [1 p. 187]

    For example: John 20:19-21:14, Acts 1:3

  • Jesus acted like a real person [1 p. 187]

    Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9) - like a real person and unlike a dream.

  • Hallucinations do not eat [1 p. 187]

    The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Luke 24:42- 43, John 21:1-14). 1

  • The disciples touched him [1 p. 187]

    For example: Matt. 28:9, Luke 24:39, John 20:27 1

  • The disciples spoke with him, and he spoke back [1 p. 187]

    Hallucinations do not hold profound, extended conversations with you. Unless, you have the kind of mental disorder that isolates you. But this ‘hallucination’ conversed with at least eleven people at once, for forty days (Acts 1:3)

  • The apostles could not have believed in the "hallucination" if Jesus' corpse had still been in the tomb [1 p. 187]

    They would have checked for the corpse. If it was there, they could not have believed in the "hallucination".

  • The Jews could have produced the body [1 p. 187]

    If the apostles had hallucinated then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body of Jesus - unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we are dealing with the conspiracy theory.

  • Hallucinations would not lead to belief in Jesus' resurrection. [19]

    As projections of one's own mind, hallucinations cannot contain anything that is not already in the mind. But Jesus' resurrection differed from the Jewish conception in two fundamental ways. In Jewish thought the resurrection always occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual. Jesus' resurrection was both within history and of one individual person. Thus, hallucinations would not have elicited belief in Jesus' resurrection, an idea that ran solidly against the Jewish mode of thought.

  • The hallucination theory only explains the post resurrection appearances and not all the other data [1 p. 188]

    It does not explain data such as the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, and the inability to produce the corpse.

Briefly, explain three good reasons for concluding that the hallucination theory is false?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The disciples were myth-makers - Myth Theory

If the swoon, conspiracy and hallucination theory do not hold, the sceptic is left with one last option – the Myth Theory. Could the resurrection accounts be myth - neither literally true nor literally false, but spiritually or symbolically true. [1 p. 189]

The detailed evidence and support for the reliability of the New Testament (including the many reasons why we can conclude that the New Testament accounts do not contain myths) refutes this theory. Please the section on “Is Scripture Reliable as a Historical Record?" and in particular "Does the NT contain Myths?"

An additional piece of evidence against the myth theory is that there are events in the resurrection account that would not be included in a mythical account.

The first witnesses of the resurrection were women. In 1st century Judaism, women had low social status and no legal right to serve as witnesses. If it was a myth, the inventors surely would not have the empty tomb discovered by women. If, the writers were reporting what they saw, they would have to tell the truth, however socially and legally inconvenient. [1 p. 192]

Another important reason why the New Testament, and its accounts of the resurrection, could not be myth misinterpreted and confused with fact, is because it specifically distinguishes the two and repudiates the mythic interpretation. Peter explicitly makes the point that the Gospel story is historical fact, not cleverly devised myths. (see 2 Peter 1:16). [1 p. 192]

Since, it explicitly says it is not myth, then if it is myth, it is a deliberate lie. Once the New Testament distinguishes myth from fact, it becomes a lie if it is not a fact. This leads us back to the previously discredited theories (Conspiracy, Hallucination and Swoon). [1 p. 192]

Briefly, explain two good reasons for concluding that the myth theory is false? (You may wish to refer back to the section on the Internal Evidence Test)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Rose

As all the other theories have been refuted, we are left with the final option, that Jesus rose from the dead!

To think about: Could there be another alternative to Jesus having risen – perhaps one that combines a couple of theories? What evidence can you think of that is for and against these alternatives?

The following additional evidence supports of this position.

  • Resurrection appearances – there were early witnesses

1 Corinthians, in which Paul wrote about witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, is dated between 54-57 AD. [6 p. 91]

1Corinthians 15.3: 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.

In this reference, Paul states that most of these 500 witnesses were still alive, and that any reader could check the truth by questioning them! [1 p. 182]

We should also consider that in this passage, Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts. Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission.

Galatians 1.18: Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days

During which he conferred with Peter and James over a two-week period. He probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Therefore, we can not dismiss the appearances of Jesus as mythical or legendary. This large number of witnesses that Paul was referring to, were indeed eyewitnesses!

We cannot deny that these appearances occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead! [19]

  • Jesus' tomb was empty

The empty tomb of Jesus has come be one of the generally accepted facts concerning the historical Jesus. [19]

If we examine the evidence, we are forced to conclude that Jesus tomb was empty.

The historical reliability of the burial story supports the empty tomb. If the burial account is accurate, then the site of Jesus' grave was known to Jew and Christian alike. [19] In that case we can deduce that the tomb was indeed empty, for if Jesus had not risen and the burial site were known:

  1. the disciples could never have believed in the resurrection of Jesus. For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms. [19]

  2. Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly. [19]

  3. The Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair. The quickest and surest answer to the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus would have been simply to point to his grave on the hillside. [19]

Note that the burial story is one of the most historically certain traditions we have concerning Jesus. [19] The following are some of the reasons why.

  1. The burial is mentioned in the third line of the old Christian formula quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. [19]

    In the formula cited by Paul the expression "he was raised" following the phrase "he was buried" implies the empty tomb. [19] The phrase "on the third day" probably points to the discovery of the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, the point is that since no one actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, how did Christians come to date it "on the third day?" The most probable answer is that they did so because this was the day of the discovery of the empty tomb by Jesus' women followers. Hence, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. Thus, in the old Christian formula quoted by Paul we have extremely early evidence for the existence of Jesus' empty tomb. [19]

  2. The story itself lacks any traces of legendary development. The story is simple and not the style of myth. [19]

    Remember too, that the tomb was probably discovered empty by women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society.

    1. Woman occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. [19]

    2. The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. Any later legend would certainly have made the male disciples discover the empty tomb. [19]


  3. The story comports with archeological evidence concerning the types and location of tombs existing in Jesus' day. [19]

  4. No other competing burial traditions exist. [19]

  5. The earliest Jewish argument presupposes the empty tomb.

    The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb.

    Matthew 28.12: When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say,' His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.'

    Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb. [19]

No wonder, considering all these reasons, it is widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. [19]

To think about: How does the empty tomb support the theory that Jesus Rose?

 

Why can we be certain that Jesus' tomb was empty? Give a brief summary of the arguments presented above.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The origin of the Christian Way.

Even the most sceptical scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Indeed, they pinned nearly everything on it. Without belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity could never have come into being. The crucifixion would have remained the final tragedy in the life of Jesus. The origin of Christianity hinges on the belief of these earliest disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. [19]

The question now inevitably arises: how does one explain the origin of that belief? [19]

If one denies that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then they must explain the disciples' belief that he did rise either in terms of Jewish influences or in terms of Christian influences. [19]

Now clearly, it can't be the result of Christian influences, for at that time there wasn't any Christianity yet! Since belief in Jesus' resurrection was the foundation for the origin of the Christian faith, it can't be a belief formed as a result of that faith. [19]

But neither can the belief in the resurrection be explained as a result of Jewish influences. The Jewish conception of resurrection differed in two important, fundamental respects from Jesus' resurrection. In Jewish thought the resurrection to eternal life always occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual. Jesus' resurrection was both within history and of one individual person. [19]

The disciples, therefore, confronted with Jesus' crucifixion and death, would only have looked forward to the resurrection at the final day and would probably have carefully kept their master's tomb as a shrine, where his bones could reside until the resurrection. They would not have come up with the idea that he was already raised. [19]

The disciples' belief in Jesus' resurrection, therefore, cannot be explained as the result of either Christian or Jewish influences. Left to themselves, the disciples would never have come up with such an idea as Jesus' resurrection. And remember: they were fishermen and tax collectors, not theologians. [19]

Here is a belief nothing in terms of previous historical influences can account for. We have a situation in which a large number of people held firmly to this belief, which cannot be explained in terms of the Old Testament or the Pharisees, and these people held onto this belief until the Jews finally threw them out of the synagogue. [19]

The resurrection of Jesus is therefore the best explanation for the origin of the Christian faith. [19]

Conclusion

No alternative to the real resurrection of Jesus Christ has yet explained: the existence of the Gospels, the origin of the Christian faith, the failure of Christ’s enemies to produce his corpse, the empty tomb, or the accounts of the resurrection appearances. [1 p. 195]

Modern scholarship recognizes no plausible explanatory alternative to the resurrection of Jesus. Those who refuse to accept the resurrection as a fact of history are simply left without an explanation!

Discussion questions and exercises

  • List three reasons why the resurrection is important?



 

 

 

 

  • What are the alternatives to Jesus having risen from the dead? Which of these alternatives are covered in this section, which are covered in the rest of the apologetic study, and which are not covered at all?



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • What evidence is there in support of the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus?



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Summarise the arguments in this section to such an extent, so that you could simply and clearly present the argument for the resurrection to someone else?



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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