The Resurrection is the key event of Christianity. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then Christianity simply wouldn’t exist as a religion. I have elsewhere discussed the contradictions in the crucifixion narrative and how claiming Jesus died for our sins doesn’t make any sense, so today being Easter Sunday, I thought I’d investigate whether the core of Christianity is actually true. Did Jesus really rise from the dead or is it just a myth?
One thing I don’t understand is the reason for the resurrection. What was God or Jesus trying to prove? What was the point? He supposedly died for our sins (something which makes no sense), but why rise? Does that defeat the whole point of his sacrifice? You can’t claim to have died for humanity if you didn’t actually die. There is a second problem in that Lazarus supposedly also rose from the dead, which takes away a lot of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Is Lazarus the Son of God? Also according to Matthew 27:52-3, when Jesus died, many saints apparently also rose from the dead and “went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” If loads of other people also rose from the dead, what’s special about Jesus? This zombie apocalypse isn’t mentioned anywhere else, which makes me think that Matthew had no clue what he was talking about.
If the resurrection was true, it would be one of the most important events in world history, so you’d expect God to provide some convincing evidence. In fact, the evidence is incredibly weak and crumbles after the slightest of nudges. The main problem is that there are no eye witness accounts to the actual event, a detail you’d think would get more notice. The Bible is our only source, yet we don’t know who wrote the Gospels. There were compiled decades after the event by unknown authors, which isn’t the best of starts. It is generally acknowledged that whoever wrote the Gospels did not personally witness the events but rather wrote down oral stories (that had presumably changed over the years with telling). The other source is the letters of Paul, yet he never even met Jesus and his claim that Jesus appeared before 500 people is not mentioned by anyone else, making me think it never happened.
We cannot trust whoever wrote the Gospels, because they contradict each other frequently. In fact there is hardly a single part of the story that the Gospels agree on. How many women went to the empty tomb? According to John it was only Mary Magdalene, according to Matthew it was Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, Mark says it was the two Marys and Salome, while Luke claims it was the two Marys, Joanna and other women. What did they see there? According to Matthew it was an angel, Mark writes it was a young man, Luke says it was two men, while John says it was two angels. Now this may sound like minor details, but it is actually important. You see, not all accounts can be right, they contradict themselves so much, that at least three must be wrong. These three must not have reliable sources, but instead be recording stories distorted over time. This means that if they are wrong about one part, then they are probably wrong about other parts.
A strange thing about the Bible is that although the resurrection is so obviously important, it gets barely any mention. Matthew, Mark and Luke spend only a page describing the most crucial event in Christianity. Most of this page is spent describing an empty tomb; the resurrection gets a tiny notice as though it was almost a footnote. What is strange is that they don’t describe Jesus doing anything special, he simply appears and that’s it. He barely even speaks. No lesson, words or explanations, nor any talk of where he went. Not even an explanation of why he rose from the dead. Only John gives any details, which for some reason the other Gospels don’t seem to know anything about. When someone claims to have seen something that no one else (not even the people who were there) mentions, it makes you think that maybe they’re wrong when they claim to be a witness.
The Gospels radically contradict each other on what Jesus did when he rose (the one part of the Bible Christians would want to be coherent). According to Matthew, all he did was appear and say two lines and then the story ends (no mention of an ascension). Mark claims little more, in his version Jesus appeared and spoke 4 sentences before going to Heaven. He apparently said that believers will be able to “cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover”. Many Christians don’t believe this part to be true, so when you wonder why Atheists don’t believe the Bible’s story of the resurrection, it’s because Christians don’t either.
Luke is a little more detailed, in his version, two disciples were talking with a stranger all day without realising it was Jesus (maybe it wasn’t?). Suddenly they realised it was him and Jesus “vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31). Huh? Since when did Jesus have the power to make himself invisible or teleport? This is part of the reason why I’m so sceptical of the claim that Jesus physically rose from the dead. These two disciples ran back to the rest of the disciples and in the middle of telling them, Jesus suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Honestly, this sounds more like an apparition or a spirit rather than an actual resurrection, but Jesus ate food and showed his wounds which convinced the disciples. He then ascended to Heaven. So far a common theme is that the resurrection is completely pointless. He has no special message or anything to say to the disciples, nor does he do anything. In fact, he only appears to the disciples and no one else. Surely, appearing to the whole city would convince a lot more people that he did rise from the dead. By doing nothing in front of his die hard supporters before mysteriously disappearing, the story lacks credence and, well, any point.
John’s version is similar and it also makes it sound more like the ghost of Jesus, rather than a physical human brought back to life. While the disciples are hiding in locked rooms, Jesus appears to them, calms them and disappears. So basically Jesus only appears when there are no independent or credible witnesses. Not whole cities, but only a handful of people who already believe him and worship him. Why? John further tells a story of the disciples fishing and Jesus appearing (though they don’t recognise him initially) and using his powers to help them catch fish. This is the most productive thing Jesus does after the resurrection, which makes it seem quite pointless. He then tells them his second coming will occur before they die, though no mention is made of the ascension. While this is the most detailed account, none of the other Gospels mention it the events, implying either John’s story isn’t true, the other Gospels didn’t witness the resurrection, or both.
The strongest evidence against the resurrection being true is the complete secrecy of it. Jesus only appears when there are no independent witnesses. If Jesus walked around Jerusalem thousands of people would instantly be convinced. Imagine if he appeared before Pontius Pilate, not even a skeptic could deny that. The Romans would naturally be interested in the fact one of their prisoners who they executed was still alive and were Jesus to appear before them, they would be convinced and Christianity would spread throughout the Empire. Instead there is complete secrecy, which seems to negate the point of the resurrection. Jesus rises from the dead but doesn’t want people to know about it.
If the resurrection is a myth, then where did it come from? Were the disciples lying? What probably happened was that the disciples believed that though Jesus was dead, his spirit lived on. This is the equivalent of the revolutionaries claim that “You can kill me, but you cannot kill the revolution”. The disciples believed that though Christ was dead, Christianity was not. It reminds me of the song “Joe Hill”, where union organiser Joe Hill is executed, only to appear to a friend in a dream claiming he never died. The song does not mean that Joe Hill rose from the dead, rather that his spirit, the spirit of unionism, lives on. This is probably how the disciples viewed it and passed on the story orally. As it was decades before the Gospels were written down, the story got changed over time with details added like a game of Chinese Whispers. This is why the Gospels contradict each other and why the later Gospels are more boastful than the earlier ones, the myth grew larger over time.
So no, Jesus did not rise from the dead. The weak evidence in the Bible as well as the numerous contradictions discredits it as a reliable source. It quickly becomes clear that the resurrection was originally meant as a metaphor to inspire hope in the fledging Christian movement, it was only later that this story got exaggerated until people started thinking it was a literal physical resurrection. Were the Mormons to claim that Joseph Smith rose from the dead, no non-Mormon would believe them. No Christian believes that Mohammed rode a winged horse despite what the Koran says. If we apply the same level of critical thought and scepticism to the resurrection, we find that it too, did not happen.