This week I was asked to do a short talk at The Mix about why I believed in the resurrection. I think the first thing to realise is that today we live in a very confusing world where a lot of news is just fake. This makes us cynical. I someones watch the news and just laugh at how stupid some of the stories are and how disconnected it all is from reality.
I do enjoy a cynical laugh from time to time but it is a bit worrying.We live in a world that has lost its faith in everything. But this loss of faith is most profound in established institutions, such as the Church, Universities and most of all Politicians. We live in such a confusing world faith and trust in anything is hard to come by. Into this vacuum of trust pop many outrageous conspiracy theories. I have to admit enjoying the odd illuminati, Alex Jones style David Icke style stuff. Prince Philip is a giant Lizard and the UN want to reduce world population through the New World Order. The lack of trust in Science, Church and Politics is what drives the believably of this sort of thing.
Its at this time of year I hear various conspiracy theories about the resurrection. It seems that over the last thirty years these stories have exploded all over the place. Everything from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, to its fore runner Holy Blood Holy Grail. There are also the internet conspiracy theorists telling the world that Jesus never existed.
So why do I believe in the resurrection? To answer that I’ve put down my top 5 reasons and four of which has an accompanying conspiracy theory.
5: It’s all Chinese Whispers and Gossip
The conspiracy theory goes like this: The stories about the resurrection were made up years and years after the events. Like chinese whispers people just added bit and it got exaggerated. I live in a small town and gossip is just like that. The problem with this theory is that the evidence does not favour it at all. The first writings about the resurrection are in Galatians (49 - 50 CE possibly the earliest letter in the bible). Here Paul references where he saw the risen Jesus just three years after his death. In 51 CE Paul founds the Church of Corinth and writes to them two years later. This letter is in the Bible 1 Corinthians and it contains one of the earliest Christian creeds about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Scholars estimate that it takes at least two generations for a legend to form within a community. So it can’t be chinese whispers, because there wasn’t enough time for this to develop. Scholars of no faith and other faith conclude that the disciples believed that they saw the risen Jesus and this believe can be traced right back to at least a few years after his death.
4: The Disciples Stole the Body
Why on earth would they do that after all they were killed for their faith. Even if they had serious mental illness, this illness would itself make founding any movement improbable. There is no belief in their Jewish faith of the messiah rising from the dead. There is no template for a bodily resurrection, which is why the disciples are so sure of what the risen Jesus is not. They are sure that he is not a Ghost or vision. Exactly who Jesus is always remains a mystery.
3: The appearance of early Christianity is attested in other sources.
There are more written historical records of Jesus’ death and the rise of Christianity than there are for the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar. There are 40 sources for Jesus and 10 for Tiberius. Even if you take out the biblical writers, there are still 9 sources for Jesus and 9 for Tiberius. Caesar loses one because he is mentioned by Luke.
All the non-biblical writings about Jesus are hostile to Christianity too. They are all complaining about Christians and the fact that they are dying for their faith. Because the Christian idea that all humans were brothers was appalling to everyone at the time. How could a Roman be a brother to a non-Roman and how could a Greek be the brother of a Gaul. This was a deeply racist society, so the idea that different races were brothers was totally new and aberrant. The book of Acts records St Peter saying.
‘I now realise that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation’. (Acts 10 v34) This was a huge move for Peter and everyone else who because a Christian, because at the time each nation had their own God and only people from that nation could be included.
Lucian Samosata a Greek historian and comedian, ridicules this idea asking how a Greek could be the brother of any other nation. The Greeks in particular held that they were the superior intellect in the world.
The other thing that upset the non-Christian writers was how Christians were dying for their faith. Pliny the younger a governor in Asia wrote to the emperor complaining that too many Christians were being killed for their faith. He tells of torturing two deaconesses who would not recant their faith.
Both Lucian and Pliny were around at the same time as the New Testament was written.
2: The Bible is the worst public relations exercise in history.
If you were going to make up the story of the resurrection then you would do a far better job of it. First pick better witnesses, women don’t hold much sway in the ancient world. Also, make sure that in the story you paint yourself in the best light. In the election all of the leaders are trying show themselves as perfect. The disciples are cowards and rather stupid at times. The Bible doesn’t show them in a very good light at all. If you were making it up to get loads of money you would do a better PR job.
1: The Resurrection is something we can experience today spirituality.
For me this is most important. All the historical reasons show that the disciples saw something that changed their lives. It is only when we experience the risen Jesus today in our own lives that it becomes truly real for us. This is something that millions of Christians have experienced for thousands of years. In Luke 24 the road to Emmaus story tells of the hearts of the disciples burning within them. This is something that I have experienced many times as have Christians throughout history. The reason I believe in the resurrection stories is that I can relate the disciples experience to my own. This is what makes it all literally come alive.
Like any relationship the evidence can only take you so far, in the end it is about trusting another person. It’s the same for the resurrection, evidence based trust. Cynicism and distrust makes us feel clever and powerful. Like with politics distrust releases us from the fear of being let down. The question then becomes how can we any relationship or any power without trust?
Below is a video I put together a few years ago going through much more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus