Defending Christ’s Resurrection

empty_tombMany people flat-out object to the idea that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Of those who admit that He historically existed and that he physically died, they propose various theories for the belief that Jesus rose from the grave. The four basic arguments against the Resurrection are the Grave Robber Lie, the Wrong Tomb Lie, the Mass Hallucination Lie and the Secret Twin Lie.

The Grave Robber Lie is the idea that someone for reasons unknown stole the body of Jesus from the tomb. There are three main versions of this lie, and one minor variation. The first theory proposed against Christ’s resurrection is actually recorded in the Bible in Matthew 28:11-15. This theory, propagated by Jewish authorities, proposes that the disciples came by night and stole the body of Jesus to make it appear that he had resurrected.A variation on this theme proposes that Joseph of Arimathaea and/or Nicodemus used their influence as members of the Sanhedrin against the Roman guard and tricked them into allowing them to take the body to a different location to either protect the body from Jewish authorities or propagate the Resurrection myth. Yet another version of the Grave Robber Lie alleges that the Jewish authorities stole the body of Jesus as a final insult. A final version has it that the Romans stole the body for reasons unknown.

The Wrong Tomb Lie is an idea propounded by Kirsopp Lake that the women who first visited the Empty Tomb went to the wrong tomb and, as a result, were mistaken about the Risen Christ.

The Mass Hallucination Lie is the proposal that everyone who claimed to see the Empty Tomb or the resurrected Christ had only suffered some sort of ecstatic religious hallucination culminating in an imagined Ascension.

The Secret Twin Lie is my personal favorite. It’s the ridiculous notion that Christ had an unmentioned twin brother who appeared after His death and thus, intentionally or unintentionally, spawned the Resurrection myth. It reminds me so much of a standard daytime television plot that I often just call it the Soap Opera Lie.

The implication of this set of lies is that if Jesus did not rise again, Christianity is based on a lie. Which would again mean that we are still in our sins, et cetera.

Interestingly enough, while there are minor differences, each lie presupposes that Jesus actually lived, died and that an Empty Tomb must be explained away. This is significant because, as the Apostle Paul affirmed before Festus and Agrippa, “These things were not done in a corner” [Acts 26:26]. Paul Althaus adds:

“[The resurrection] could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.1

The Grave robber lies all presuppose that the Empty Tomb can only be explained by natural means; thus, someone stole the body. The Wrong Tomb lie, presupposes that the disciples of Christ at least believed they had found an Empty Tomb; thus, they must have gone to the wrong one. The Mass Hallucination lie presupposes that the miraculous does not exist. It also seems to presuppose the Freudian hypothesis that religious belief is a mental imbalance. In any case, it proposes that everything was in the disciples’ heads. The Secret Twin lie presupposes a twin no one has any evidence for. It presupposes that this twin was unknown to anyone before the death of Christ. It presupposes that the twin knew enough of Christ to capitalize on his reputation. It’s ridiculous. I have a hard time addressing it seriously.

The solution to this set of lies is found in the facts concerning the tomb and in the witnesses of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ.

According to the Bible, the tomb was protected by a guard [4 soldiers] and sealed with a large stone. This tomb was the property of Joseph of Arimathaea, a rich man, secret follower of Jesus and member of the Sanhedrin who had not been present during Jesus’ illegal night trial. No man had ever yet lain in this tomb. Jesus was laid in this tomb and wrapped in grave linens according to the tradition of the Jews before the stone was moved in place. Nicodemus also helped in the preparation of the body. It is also noted that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid; it was these two women and Salome and Joanna who first found the Empty Tomb [Mark 15:42-16:1; Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42].

In the 40 days between his resurrection and Ascension, Christ made several appearances, providing many convincing proofs and expounding Old Testament prophecies concerning Himself:

  • He appeared first to Mary Magdalene [Mark 16:9-11; John 20-11-18]
  • Then to the women who had seen the Empty Tomb [Matt 28:9-10]
  • Then to Simon Peter, called Cephas, as related by Cleopas and another disciple [Luke 24:33-35; I Cor.15:5]
  • Then to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus. [Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-32]
  • Then to 10 disciples [Thomas absent] [John 20:19-23]
  • Then to all 11 disciples [Mark 16:14;Luke 24:36-43;John 20:24-31; 1 Cor 15:5]
  • Then to 7 disciples by the Sea of Galilee as they were fishing [John 21]
  • Then to His brother, James [1 Cor. 15:7]
  • Then to about above 500 on an appointed mountain in Galilee. [Mark 16:15-20; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-12; 1 Cor. 15:6-7
  • Then the appearance to Paul “as one born out of time,” which explains his sudden conversion from a determined persecutor of Christians to spreading the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection throughout the Roman Empire. [Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-22; 22:1-21; 26:8-23; 1 Cor 15:8]

Armed with these details from the Biblical record, we’ll comment upon each objection to Jesus’ actual Resurrection in turn.

Regarding the Grave Robber lie, we first note that it is unlikely that the disciples had the ability to overpower well-armed Roman soldiers. Furthermore, the disciples had no motive for such a theft. If they’d stolen the body, they would have known that the Gospel they preached was a lie. Few men are willing to knowingly die for a lie, still less, to allow others to suffer cruel torture and death for that lie. Yet all of the disciples suffered cruel martyrdom, save John who was exiled to Patmos. Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, J.N.D. Anderson says:

“This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.2

Neither could the disciples have fabricated the other witnesses to the Living Christ. The post-Resurrection appearances pose a major obstacle to this theory. Someone would have had to play the part of a the risen lord and somehow convince his closest acquaintances, disciples, his half-brother James, and his own mother Mary that this was he who was cruelly crucified, buried and was now risen again. As to the idea that Joseph of Arimathaea and/or Nicodemus specifically stole the body of Christ, there is simply no evidence for this argument. It is unlikely that either secret disciple would have hidden the body. For Joseph of Arimathaea, to allow Jesus his tomb was an act of utmost honor. Moving the body seems unlikely in this light. Given this honor afforded to Christ, it seems equally unlikely they would have let untold Christians die for a lie if they really knew the body was elsewhere.

Regarding the theory that either the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman government stole the body of Christ, neither suspected party has a motive to speak of. The Romans would gain nothing by the theft at all. The Jews were trying to prevent the disciples from saying Christ was raised and therefore asked that a guard be placed at the tomb to keep anyone from moving the body to propagate just such a claim. Furthermore, either party could have simply produced a body to squash all notions of a risen Christ. Nor does this claim provide any explanation for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

Of course, some folks think that everybody simply got the tomb location wrong and mistakenly thought Christ had risen due to the empty state of an erroneous as-yet-unused tomb. It should be noted that if the women went to the wrong tomb, then the disciples also went to the wrong tomb. It seems highly unlikely that Joseph of Arimathaea would not know the correct location of the tomb he donated! He certainly could have corrected any false notions immediately. The Jews and Romans also knew the correct location of the tomb (the Jewish authorities had requested that a Roamn guard be placed at the tomb to prevent such theft!). If Christ were not raised, they could

have simply produced the body. Once again, this theory fails to account for Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. Neither does it explain why the burial cloth covering Jesus’ face was found folded neatly and the grave wrappings for His body were likewise abandoned within the tomb; for why would an as-yet-unused tomb have such funeral artifacts?

Realizing that neither the Grave Robber lie nor the Wrong Tomb lie account for all of the Biblical details provide, nor yet provide any explanation for the post-Resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ, others have offered the Mass Hallucination Lie. Sometimes this lie is offered in conjunction with one of the others to try to explain both the empty tomb and post-Resurrection appearances separately. Aside from being insulting to some degree, the mass Hallucination Lie is also unlikely due to the number of appearances and wide range of witnesses: an unbelieving sibling (James), a disciple who had thrice denied him, Thomas who refused to believe unless

he could touch Christ’s physical crucifixion wounds, a mother who watched Him die on the cross and commit her to the care of the beloved disciple John, 500 at once, etc. The appearances have physical elements not general associated with hallucinations: Jesus eats fish, the disciples touch him, and Jesus spends time with them expounding the Old Testament scriptures about himself. The witnesses display skepticism and misapprehension rather than the receptive sort of spirit which usually accompanies hallucinations: Thomas will not believe until he touches Jesus, the disciples think Jesus is a ghost at first when he walks through a wall to visit them, the disciples do not immediately believe the report of the women returning from the tomb; John believes immediately upon seeing the empty tomb, but Peter remains unconvinced until Christ appears to him.

Nor can it be denied that Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is “Check my story! I have plenty of witnesses!” He declares the witnesses to the Risen Lord, noting that 500 saw Him at once on one occasion and even though some have died since then, many remain alive who might corroborate his claim.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that if it was all a hallucination, a body could have been produced to bring everyone back to their senses.

As mentioned, the Twin lie is purest fabrication. It requires so many improbabilities, like a twin no one has any record of, whom no one knew of until after Christ’s death, which bore crucifixion wounds, who is able to convince Jesus’ closest friends and relatives. There is not a single shred of evidence for this Soap Opera-level story. It completely stretches the bounds of imagination. And once again, an occupied tomb would have worked against such a con.

Given the details of the tomb as recorded in the Bible, the inescapable fact of the Empty Tomb, the testimony of His post-resurrection appearances, and the zeal of the Early Church, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.

It still takes a measure of faith, of course. When faith becomes certainty, it is no longer faith, but knowledge. Yet it is a reasonable faith. In addition to these many proofs, we Christians have the witness of the Holy Ghost within us, so that we can boldly assert as Peter did: We have not followed cleverly devised fables, but are eyewitnesses to His majesty!

–Rev Tony Breeden

Works Cited

  1. Althaus, Paul. Die Wahrheit des kirchlichen Osterglaubens (Gutersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1941), pp. 22, 25ff.
  2. Anderson, J.N.D. Christianity: The Witness of History (Downers Grove, Ill.: Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Copyright Tyndale Press, 1970.) p. 92.


Recommended Reading

  1. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.
  2. The Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.
  3. More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell.
  4. Know Why You Believe by Paul Little.
  5. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

11 Comments Add yours

  1. endwatcher says:

    All the theories are just excuses not to believe because they do not want to. That is just the way people are. When wandering in the desert the Israelis complained against God even as His presence was seen and His miracles visible. People in Jesus time kept asking for signs even as he was fulfilling them. Concrete proof could be offered and people would still make up reasons not to believe. Faith is a miracle and a victory.

  2. “Many people flat-out object to the idea that Jesus actually rose from the dead.”

    As their are no contemporary accounts of Jesus’ existence, whether or not he existed is questionable. Any supernatural claims about him beyond his mere existence are no more worth considering than the claim that Gaius Julius Caesar was related to the goddess Venus.

    1. NotAScientist,

      Actually there are accounts of Jesus’ existence which were written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses to his life, as I demonstrated in this post. It has never been questionable, any more than it is questionable that the Holocaust actually happened.

      Furthermore, in Caesar’s case centuries passed before his biography was written down, allowing time for legendary elements to creep in. In the absence of adequate time for legendary elements to be imposed upon the historical narrative, as in the case of Jesus, to then deny the supernatural elements of the the accounts of Jesus’ life is simply to beg the question of whether God exists. This isn’t an argument from the evidence but an utter denial of it based on one’s presuppositions.

      Think about it,
      Tony Breeden

      1. “Actually there are accounts of Jesus’ existence which were written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses to his life”

        Which would make them not contemporary accounts.

        I can have you speak with eyewitnesses of alien abductions that are still alive today. But their accounts, by themselves, are not good enough…despite being better evidence than your ‘within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses’ accounts.

        “In the absence of adequate time for legendary elements to be imposed upon the historical narrative”

        How much time?

        In less than ten years, large groups of people believe that Michael Jackson is still alive and that 9/11 was caused by something other than planes. Those are legendary elements imposed upon historical narrative in a very short amount of time. Why should it take longer to happen in a society that doesn’t have television and video? It seems to me it would happen even faster.

        “to then deny the supernatural elements of the the accounts of Jesus’ life is simply to beg the question of whether God exists. ”

        It’s not denying the supernatural elements. It’s understanding that testimony alone is not good enough by itself to prove supernatural things. If you think it is, I again point you to the alien abductees.

      2. Actually, accounts of Jesus’ existence which were written within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses to his life would be considered contemporary to His life by any historian’s standards. In fact, it’s rather like a news flash by ancient historical standards. If we cannot trust the contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life, we cannot trust any ancient historical account, which is saying more than any rational person would intend.

        Furthermore, your point about alien abductees does not support the point you hope to make. Rather you simply beg the question of pure naturalism rather than examining the evidence.

        As I pointed out in another comment, your point concerning 9/11 conspiracy theories [and similar urban legends like Elvis or Jacko being alive] are refutable by eyewitness accounts, which makes my point rather than yours. My point was that any legendary or mythical element attached to a biography can be refuted or challenged by eyewitnesses to the events or persons involved. Compare this to the hostile witnesses to Jesus’ live: The Talmud calls Him a sorcerer rather than denying His miracles. Likewise, anyone in Palestine could have refuted the claim of the resurrection by producing a body and, since no one did, it rather admits to the problem of the empty tomb. Again, you should bother examining the evidence before you reject it.

        I should also mention that there is a further fallacy in your argument regarding modern conspiracy theories. You ask, “Why should it take longer to happen in a society that doesn’t have television and video?” Actually, the reason such legendary elements can affix themselves to historical accounts so quickly is because of technology: namely, the profusion and confusion of information available on the internet. Such information would have become confused at a slower pace in the past precisely because it took information longer to travel [thus hampering the phenomenon of information creep]. Again, you should seriously consider doing some research next time before you go spouting a baseless opinion in support of your argument.

        You’re still begging the question of whether their testimony is reliable [and my argument shows that extraBiblical historical sources confirm the existence of Jesus, but I guess that’s not good enough for someone as close-minded as you, eh?] based on the fact that it contains a claim you find impossible. You made up your mind before you examined the evidence – worse, you never examined the evidence because you’d already come to the conclusion it’s bunk. Honestly, I feel sorry for you. You’ve basically stated that you refuse to accept any past claim unless it meets your preconceptions.

        Think about it,

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