The problem of the Resurrection


Detractors of the Resurrection were unable to produce the missing Body so it’s hardly our place to prove the Resurrection – the onus is on them to disprove it. Hume certainly doesn’t start promisingly.

First, Hume argues that our “firm and unalterable experience” militates against the reality of miracles. Any claim of miraculous intervention, therefore, must be matched with our uniform experience and weighed appropriately. Therefore, any miracle claim will be dis-confirmed by our “firm and unalterable experience” on the matter.

Hume’s first argument has been recognized to be a classic case of petitio principii (begging the question) because he begins by assuming that our “firm and unalterable experience” already excludes a history of miracles.

This is the sort of thing real scholars are always up against. Others outside the faith have noted it too.  Sir Norman Anderson, describing himself as “an academic from another discipline” who has browsed widely in the writings of contemporary theologians and biblical scholars, wrote in Lawyer Among Theologians, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1973, p15, about the quality of the criticism of the anti-Christian so-called intellectuals:

“At times [I am] astonished by the way in which they handle their evidence, by the presuppositions and a priori convictions with which some of them clearly (and even, on occasion, on their own admission) approach the documents concerned, and by the positively staggering assurance with which they make categorical pronouncements on points which are, on any showing, open to question, and on which equally competent colleagues take a diametrically opposite view.”

The sole purpose of this article is twofold – to offer solid evidence, if not final proof, on the dating of the gospels [vital in the context of the resurrection and divinity of Jesus of Nazareth] and to show that there was indeed a strong Christology already underway within 20 years of the event which had sparked it all.

That is sufficient to show, not definitive proof of something metaphysical in which He went out of the way himself not to establish it beyond doubt but instead to show that something pretty big did happen at the time and it was big enough to move thousands of people into actions they would never have undertaken, had He been a mere homespun philosopher.

Why would He have not arranged for definitive proof to be available?

Free Will and Faith are the answers here – with definitive proof, you kill off speculation. Without it, then if someone believes in you, there’s a certain piquancy to it.

The historical Jesus

Not seriously questioned, even by detractors of the Resurrection itself, there’s enough in the non-C texts, e.g. Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1974, to allow for this. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1944., himself not a Christian, wrote concerning Christ’s historical validity:

“The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity” (Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 3, p. 555).

And again,:

“That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels” (Ibid., p. 557).

The dating

Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, ch. V, p. 20; Book XX, ch. IX, p. 140, refers to “The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James. . . he delivered them to be stoned”. This attests to at least an embryonic Christology within 40 years of His death. It obviously doesn’t establish the divinity of such a Christ or say anything about his resurrection but it does indicate that some did take Jesus as the Christ.

C. H. Dodd, arguably the greatest English-speaking biblical scholar of the twentieth century, in a letter that serves as an appendix to Robinson’s book Redating the New Testament, wrote:

“I should agree with you that much of the late dating is quite arbitrary, even wanton, the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic’s prejudice that, if he appears to assent to the traditional position of the early church, he will be thought no better than a stick-in-the-mud.”

Many years earlier the same point was made by C. C. Torrey, professor of Semitic Languages at Yale from 1900 to 1932. He wrote:

“I challenged my NT colleagues to designate one passage from any one of the four Gospels giving clear evidence of a date later than 50 A.D. … The challenge was not met, nor will it be, for there is no such passage.”

In 1976, the New Testament scholar John A. T. Robinson, “put a cat among the pigeons” with his book Redating the New Testament, published by SCM Press. He maintained that there are no real grounds for putting any of the NT books later than 70 A.D.   His argument was mainly the lack of mention of the 70 AD destruction of the temple.

Detractors, naturally, to refute this and to leave the way open for a late dating, must make out a case as to why not one of the gospel writers referred to the event nor had Jesus do more than predict it. I’ve read a few “they would have thought this” or “in those days, it wasn’t usual to” but not one explains why the single greatest event in Jewish history of that time is not given a word or a line, either in the synoptic gospels or in subsequent books. Of course they downplay this with “any reasonable person would accept” but once more – they offer no definitive way to get over this objection.

Jean Carmignac, a French scholar who for some years was a member of the team working on the Dead Sea Scrolls, confided that he would have preferred “Twenty Years of Work on the Formation of the Synoptic Gospels” as a title for his book, but the publishers ruled this out as too long.

Carmignac is sure that Matthew and Mark were originally written in Hebrew. This would not have been the classical Hebrew of the Old Testament, nor that of the Mishnah (c. 200 A.D.) but an intermediate form of the language, such as the Qumran sectaries were using in the 1st century A.D.

Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who died about 130 A.D., wrote that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew.

Carmignac has made a good case for holding that the same is true of Mark. He found that this compelled him to put the composition of these Gospels much earlier than the dates proposed by the biblical establishment. He wrote:

“I increasingly came to realize the consequences of my work . . . . The latest dates that can be admitted for Mark (and the Collection of Discourses) is 50, and around 55 for the Completed Mark; around 55-60 for Matthew; between 58 and 60 for Luke. But the earliest dates are clearly more probable: Mark around 42; Completed Mark around 45; (Hebrew) Matthew around 50; (Greek) Luke a little after 50.”

In 1992, Hodder and Stoughton published Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke by John Wenham, the author of a well-known grammar of New Testament Greek. Wenham put the first draft of Matthew before 42. For twelve years (30-42) the Apostles had remained in Jerusalem, constituting, in words of the Swedish scholar B. Gerhardsson, a kind of Christian Sanhedrin, hoping to win over the Jewish people to faith in Christ. The persecution of the Church in 42 by Herod Agrippa I, in which the Apostle James suffered martyrdom, put an end to those hopes.

C. J. Hemer, in his huge work, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, which was published posthumously in 1989, gives fifteen general indications, of varying weight but cumulative in their force, which point to a date before 70. Indeed, many of these point to a date before 65, the year in which the Neroian persecution of the Church began.

In 1996, Weidenfeld and Nicholson published The Jesus Papyrus by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew d’Ancona. Thiede is Director of the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany, and a member of the International Papyrological Association. Matthew d’Ancona is a journalist and A former deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph; he was appointed editor of The Spectator in February 2006, a post he retained until August 2009.

The book is about several papyrus fragments, and in particular three found in Luxor, Egypt, which contain passages from the Gospel of St. Matthew, and one found in Qumran, which contains twenty letters from the Gospel of St. Mark. C. P. Thiede suspected that they might be much older than Roberts thought. Examining them with a confocal laser scanning microscope, and comparing them with the script in a document dated July 24, 66, he came to the conclusion that the fragments should be dated as belonging to the middle of the first century.

Thiede wrote:

“In 1994, the last word on this particular identification seemed to have been uttered by one of the great papyrologists of our time, Orsolina Montevecchi, Honorary President of the International Papyrological Association. She summarized the results in a single unequivocal sentence: ‘I do not think there can be any doubt about the identification of 7Q5.'”

This implies that St. Marks’ Gospel was in being some time before the monastery at Qumran was destroyed by the Romans in 68.

Less weight:

Robinson also points out that John, when describing the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, tells us that this pool “is surrounded by five porticos, or covered colonnades” (5:2). Since these porticos were destroyed in 70, John’s use of the present tense-“is”-seems to imply that the porticos were still in being when he wrote.

Clement of Rome, a Christian bishop who wrote to the Corinthian church, basically asking them why they were not obeying what Paul wrote 50 years earlier, also becomes relevant in the context of the dating. Clement’s letter was written in 97/98 A.D.

Paul himself, in citing creeds, hymns and sayings of Jesus must, by definition, drawn them from an earlier time (Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 11:23; Col. 1:15-16; Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:8); these items translate easily into Aramaic and show features of Hebrew poetry and thought-forms, which allow scholars, on the dating mentioned above, to trace their origins to Jesus’ first followers in Judea, between 33 and 48 A.D.

J. P. Holding, in The Assertion of Godhood, wrote:

Studies by New Testament scholars such as Martin Hengel of Tubingen University, C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed.

The oldest liturgical prayer recorded, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, is dated at around 55 A.D. It refers to Jesus as Lord.

Robert Rom Wilken, in The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1984, p109, wrote:

The earliest known pagan critic of Christianity to address the issue, Celsus, argued that Jesus did apply the title “Son of God” to Himself, but wrongly; only much later did those critics deny that Jesus made such claims.

In later times, Ignatius of Antioch, (ca. 115 AD), on the Divinity of Christ, calls Jesus God 16x in 7 letters (ca. 110 [AD1]. “Jesus Christ our God” Eph inscr, Eph 15:3, Eph 18:2, Tral 7, Ro inscr 2x, Ro 3:3, Smyr 10:1.

The Mathetes [disciple] who authored the Epistle to Diognetus (ca. 125 AD – modernists claim later that century), speaking of God the Father, wrote:

1. Diognetus 7:2 “he sent the Designer and Maker of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens and confined the sea within its own bounds”

2. Diognetus 7:4 “He sent him as God; he sent him as man to men.”

What can we be reasonably certain happened around the time of the death?

Terry L. Miethe, ed., in Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA, 1987., p. 19, 20, wrote:

Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, he was buried in a tomb known to the authorities, his disciples were distraught because of his death, his tomb was found empty, the disciples believed that they saw Jesus risen from the grave, this experience changed their lives, the message was central to early church teachings, and it was preached in the very city in which Jesus died.

That the Man on the cross died is not greatly in dispute by serious scholars. In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association the doctors examining the historical evidence concluded that the spear probably pierced the sack of fluid that surrounds the heart (JAMA, Vol., 255, No. 11, 1986, p. 1455ff ). If he had not been dead before this time, he was surely dead now.

This leaves the detractors with the only other way forward – that the body was swapped at the last moment and it was not Jesus who was crucified. He slipped into the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea, bided his time and then departed. How did He roll the stone back if, as detractors say, He was not divine? Had He a preorganized plan with the guards? And what would have been the carrot? He had little money.

Did Joseph of Aramathea bribe them? For what reason would anyone in authority go along with it? The Jews would not have wanted the body stolen. It was they who demanded the posting of the Roman guard and they had the most to gain by ensuring that Jesus stayed in his tomb and his teachings died with him. The Romans really had no motivation. It was in Pilate’s best interest as a governor whose job was in jeopardy to keep his realm quiet, not to mention that the Romans hated Jewish religious fanaticism.

Many Gnostics believe that prior to the crucifixion, Jesus swapped bodies with “with an innocent bystander named Simon” This is described in one of their sacred texts, “The Acts of John”. It was written about 50 AD, was widely followed by Christian groups in the early years of the Christian church and is revered by Gnostic Christians today. Yet they offer no proof – only assertion.

Mary Baker Eddy, in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” wrote:

“His disciples believed Jesus to be dead while he was hidden in the sepulcher, whereas he was alive…Jesus’ students…saw him after his crucifixion and learned that he had not died.”

… but again offers no proof.

That’s really as far as both believers and detractors can go, on the available evidence. Not a satisfactory situation but sufficient to explain what came next.

The fanaticism

Fanaticism doesn’t, in itself, establish veracity but it’s certainly indicative when large numbers begin to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

J.P. Moreland,in Scaling the Secular City, Baker House Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1987., wrote:

For a Jew of the first century to change his religion or preach some heretical doctrine would be to risk eternal damnation. They were persecuted for the message and they ultimately gave their lives for this message: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Reliable historical sources tell us that all twelve of the disciples except John died as martyrs.

There were a couple of other things. Men who had been meek, rough and rude, watching their own behinds, as in when they fled upon the arrest of Jesus, suddenly now became powerful spokesmen for Jesus Christ. Also, the message was preached, not in a remote location where no one could verify the account, but in Jerusalem where all of these events had taken place and where the story could easily have been either debunked or verified.

It is from this location that the church grew and the movement grew very quickly. Further, they all, to a man and woman, preached Christ’s Resurrection from the very beginning, they insisted on it as a fundamental fact and they described even some of the details connected with this fact: Acts, ii, 24, 31; iii, 15,26; iv, 10; v, 30; x, 39-40; xiii, 30, 37; xvii, 31-2; Rom., i,4; iv, 25; vi, 4,9; viii, 11, 34; x, 7; xiv, 9; I Cor., xv, 4, 13 sqq.; etc.

Again, this does not establish that it was so – that He was divine but they certainly came to believe it very quickly after the third day. And look whose witnesses they had to rely on, on that critical day – women. In the first century women had no legal power as witnesses in a court of law. A woman’s testimony was unacceptable. But it is to the women that Jesus first appeared. Why choose the women?

Early objections

The Jewish hierarchy naturally went to great lengths to establish that Jesus did not fulfil the criteria for Messiah and yet their objections to Him being Messiah, while such may well be the case or not, were not established by Jewish authorities and were based, in part, on erroneous scholarship. This is dealt with in this article.

More dangerous were the Gnostics for whom, despite their protestations, there is quite some evidence that they were/are working for “the other side”.

Gary H. Kah, in “En Route to Global Occupation”, Huntington House, 1991, wrote:

Gnosticism, the most effective and widely accepted form of pantheism, was more deceptive and clever than the others, developing the occult’s only major counter explanation to the Message and Person of Christ. The Gnostics were the chief adversaries of the Apostle Paul and the early Church, relentlessly pursuing Christians wherever they went, long before the mystery religions even began to crumble.

Gnosticism flourished through various offshoots such as the Manicheans of the third century, the Euchites of the fourth century, the Paulicans of the seventh century, and the Bogomils of the ninth century (Nesta H. Webster, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, Hawthorne, CA, 1924, p.32-34, 63).

He goes on to say:

It is not possible within the scope of this book to identify and define each branch of Gnosticism that has existed over the centuries, but the following teaching of the Bogomils will give us an idea of what beliefs the Knights Templars embraced before passing them on to Freemasonry:

‘God, the Supreme Father, has two sons, the elder Satanael, the younger Jesus. To Satanael, who sat on the right hand of God, belonged the right of governing the celestial world, but filled with pride, he rebelled against his Father and fell from Heaven. Then, aided by the companions of his fall, he created the visible world, image of the celestial, having like the other its sun, moon, and stars, and last he created man and the serpent which became his minister.

Later Christ came to earth in order to show men the way to Heaven, but His death was ineffectual, for even by descending into Hell He could not wrest the power from Satanael, i.e., Satan. This belief in the impotence of Christ and the necessity therefore for placating Satan, not only “the Prince of this world,” but its creator, led to the further doctrine that Satan, being all-powerful, should be adored.’ (Ibid., 63).

Albert Pike, ‘Morals and Dogma’, p248, wrote:

“The Gnostics derived their leading doctrines and ideas from Plato and Philo, the Zend-avesta and the Kabalah,and the Sacred books of India and Egypt; and thus introduced into the bosom of Christianity the cosmological and theosophical speculations, which had formed the larger portion of the ancient religions of the Orient, joined to those of the Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish doctrines, which the New-Platonists had equally adopted in the Occident”.

… and in a similar way:

“The Templars, like all other Secret Orders and Associations, had two doctrines, one concealed and reserved for the Masters . . . the other public . . . Thus they deceived the adversaries whom they sought to supplant.” (Morals and Dogma, pp817-818).

The early Church Fathers did not help matters any. In order to counter the Gnostics and to establish the doctrine according to the Church of Rome, there was much editing and rewriting. Almost all scholars now accept the extent of this, e.g. certain latter parts of Mark.

What’s the big deal about the Resurrection?

Well, it’s a very big deal. The Jews had had trouble with false messiahs before.

So, into this scenario, along with the ongoing dispute with Rome over worship, the Temple and numerous other issues, comes an obscure Carpenter’s Son from Nazareth [yes I know the objections to this designation]. He clearly caused some trouble, not as an Essene sect member who hid in the hills of Galilee but as one who took it right up to the Jewish authorities.

His claim is not mentioned by the non-Cs, except in passing reference [see above]. Yet it is written in great detail by his followers and it got him crucified. In short, He claimed He was the Son of Man, the Son of G-d, that He was sent on a mission, that He would die and rise again in three days.

A claim like that permits of no relativism, no compromise. It either has to be rejected outright or else accepted. He never claimed, as modern apologists try to establish, that He was a prophet or a soothsayer or anything other than what He claimed. Therefore, in considering His divinity, that is the dilemma – to fully accept or to completely reject.

Obviously, to completely reject, you need more than “well I just don’t believe it”. You need arguments which establish that the verdict of scholars quoted above, stretching back to about the year 100 AD, is wrong and that you, in fact, are right. You might want to come at it from the global angle – if He is the Son, then where does that leave the Moslems and Buddhists?

Where indeed? If you reject the claim on the grounds of insufferable arrogance, then that is just a psychological argument. The “why doesn’t he stop war” argument gets tied up in Free Will again.

In the end, debate is pointless because this is a metaphysical matter. The promise is that if you believe and act like a good little boy or girl from then on, your sins are paid out in full and you have the entrance ticket. All it needs is that first step. Now obviously, if you don’t buy the ticket, you never get to find out and you go round in these loops forever, cursing this bloody superstition. If you do buy the ticket, you do get to find out and the argument’s over. I found out but there’s no way I could hope to prove it to you.


The set of all those claiming, or having claimed for them, the designation Christian is huge – some 1.1 or 1.2 billion. The subset of those who truly believe, to the point where something weird actually happened to them, is a miniscule portion of the larger set. And yet, this problematic Nazarene has caused more mayhem worldwide, in terms of influence, than any other philosopher/prophet.

All because He made some outrageous claims and they couldn’t produce his body, in line with His own predictions. I kinda like that – it tickles the fancy.

10 comments for “The problem of the Resurrection

  1. Cetewayo
    April 4, 2010 at 09:08

    He is risen!

    He is risen, indeed!


  2. April 4, 2010 at 13:03

    Happy Easter 🙂

    Good articles btw.

  3. April 4, 2010 at 14:11

    To both – Happy Easter.

  4. April 4, 2010 at 14:41

    Kudos for a great, indepth investigation. Wish it was ten times the length (and that says a lot).

  5. dearieme
    April 4, 2010 at 17:58

    “The early Church Fathers … establish the doctrine according to the Church of Rome”: hold on, that can’t be quite right. Surely the early church was a church of five patriarchates – the Roman Catholic Church as we understand it stems from its schism from the other in the 11th century. No?

  6. April 4, 2010 at 18:41

    Where does it say “Roman Catholic Church” in the article, Dearieme?

    Cassandra – takes a bit of doing to meet your standards. Flattered.

  7. dearieme
    April 4, 2010 at 19:29

    It says “Church of Rome”, which is a common enough way of referring to Buggery Central, after all.

  8. The Underdoug
    April 4, 2010 at 19:52

    And again,:

    “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels” (Ibid., p. 557).

    This reminds me of the recent film Duplicity where one big corporate CEO destroys the reputation of another big corporate CEO by getting the latter to believe that the former has acquired a baldness cure. The line that struck me most, uttered by the first CEO, was: ‘this [faking that you have it] is more fun than if we really had it.’

    When you are being persecuted by the Jewish Authorities and Romans alike, your teacher has been disposed of, would someone enlighten me what incentive there would be to persist preaching Jesus’ message when the odds are manfestly at least 99.999% against your long-term survival (both individually and as a group). Why would anyone persist for no apparent temporal reward – indeed to endure temporal punishment (the disciples had their expectations of a temporal kingdom dashed, and then were re-enlightened and understood His true message) unless they were utterly convinced that He is truly risen? Human nature is sufficiently fallen that I can’t believe that people would be prepared to be martyred for the faith unless they believed that they met him after the crucifixion.

    The Gnostic cutting and running before the crucifixion would not be possible if one assumes that the cut and run would be shouted from the rooftops. I can’t believe secrecy would be possible.

  9. April 4, 2010 at 20:10

    Apostolic succession following Peter, Dearieme.

    Underdoug – yes, there needs to be some common sense in gleaning what was most likely to have happened, laying aside prejudices, very difficult for many, given their agenda.

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