IS JESUS ALIVE?
Can we rationally believe Jesus is alive today?
Christians make the claim that Jesus is alive today, 2000 years after he was crucified in Jerusalem. No other religion claims that their founder was raised from the dead, and well...to our modern ears that seems like a pretty strange claim. In our everyday experience, you might know of someone who was dead for a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes only to be revived somehow. But alive after three days?
If you haven't seen the "Happy Zombie Jesus" greetings around Easter time, you may be living under a rock. It's less than just a subtle jab at Christianity. And the thing about it is this - Christians probably do deserve to be made fun of for their beliefs if they aren't true.
The apostle Paul even says this: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
So if Jesus' body is still in the tomb, Christianity is pretty pathetic. But if Jesus is alive from the dead, nothing could possibly be more important. Scientists are working around the clock to find new ways to help prolong our lives, but we all know that we're not getting out of this life alive. The Bible claims that Jesus is the key to immortality and the one who will one day resurrect us from the dead. Paul preached to the people of Athens "God...now commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead". (Acts 17:30-31)
But it gets even stronger. Jesus is also preached as the ONLY way to this immortality. Peter said to the Jewish leaders "Jesus Christ of Nazareth...whom God raised from the dead...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10)
So if Christianity is true, it's importance cannot possibly be understated. If it's not true, Paul said that "we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead." (1 Corinthians 15:15).
Hey, wait a second!
Now you might be irritated when I say that we're going to use the Bible in order to do this. You can't prove the Bible with the Bible! But that's not what I'm up to.
Historical Jesus scholars use the New Testament texts to do their research, even if you won't. And if you know anything about modern historical Jesus scholarship, they're not exactly a group of people singing in the church choir every Sunday.
We're talking college professors, writers, historians, researchers. Some of which tend to be very skeptical. They might believe that Jesus really existed, had disciples and was crucified but when it comes to some of the things that the Bible claims he said or did, many of them will be quick to brush aside a lot of what's in the New Testament.
Here we're going to look at facts that the majority of these scholars will accept. Once we identify these facts, we'll then interpret rival explanations of these facts and see which one best explains them all.
This is what we call abductive reasoning. We're going to put on our detective hats a little bit and then infer to the best explanation.
First, some historical background regarding the death and burial of Jesus:
Jesus was crucified. This is not only reported in all four gospels but is externally confirmed by non-Christian historians. The Jewish historian Josephus says: "Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross". (Antiquities 18:3)
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus". (Annals 15:44)
Secondly, Jesus was buried. Jewish law required burial, even for foreigners and for criminals who were executed. (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211, Deuteronomy 21:23) Also, it's reported in the gospels that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in one of his family tombs. This is unlikely to be a Christian invention, as Joseph was also on the same council that ended up calling for the crucifixion.
Moving forward through the facts about the origin of the Christian faith
Down below is the relevant data that we'll be considering. Further below are the most popular explanations of the facts. They're not the only explanations, but any explanation has to cover all the facts that we'll be looking at. I recommend reading them in order.
It may surprise you that current scholarship unanimously holds that the disciples, James and Paul were convinced that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.
In the patriarchal society that was second temple Judaism, women were not highly regarded. In particular, their testimony was looked down upon in comparison to the testimony of men. Yet the Gospel writers make the then-embarrassing admission that women were the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Why is that important?
Every piece of first-century evidence indicates that the resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem beginning at Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus' crucifixion. What's the importance of the time and the place this message was announced?
After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ. Find out why that matters.
According to scholar Gary Habermas: “An intriguing development in recent theological research is that a strong majority of contemporary critical scholars seems to support, at least to some extent, the view that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was subsequently discovered to be empty” Here we look at just a few reasons why historians believe this to be fact.
Maybe the original message of what happened to Jesus changed substantially over the years until it grew into the legend of the resurrection. This might be one of the more popular explanations, but does it cover what we know?
This is the oldest explanation, dating back to the first century and is found in historical literature several times in the early centuries of the church. Could Jesus' disciples have pulled off the biggest hoax in history?
Is it possible the disciples were seeing visions or apparitions of Jesus when he wasn't really there? This would explain the appearances of Jesus, but does this theory work?
The disciples, Paul, and others were telling the truth about what they experienced. They were not deluded or deluding others. A miracle really happened. Is it rational to consider that a miracle occurred? You might be surprised.
ost of what we learn about Jesus and early Christianity comes from the New Testament. This is not a big shock. But what does come as a shock to some is that we can also learn a lot from non-Christian sources. There are some hostile sources from the first century from whom we can glean … Read more
Skeptics say “You’re only a Christian because you grew up in America. If you were born in Iran, you’d be a Muslim.” While this is wrong, it should make us think.
“How thoughtful of God to arrange matters so that, wherever you happen to be born, your local religion turns out to be the true one.” Richard Dawkins How are you so sure your faith is the right one? Isn’t religion only a reflection of culture? Some might say that you’re just a Christian as an … Read more
Atheists like Sam Harris say that the Bible advocates chattel slavery. To say that’s an uncharitable reading is an understatement.
Is the Bible pro-slavery? “If God loves us and wanted to guide us with a book of morality, it’s very strange to have given us a book that supports slavery.” Anti-religious atheists like Sam Harris love making statements like these. They do carry a lot of rhetorical force. And they do seem to throw the character … Read more
If believing in Jesus is such a huge deal, why doesn’t he do whatever it takes to show himself to me?
Back in New Testament times, Jesus supposedly worked miracles. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He has even resurrected himself. He said he did these things so we might believe. (John 14:10-11) Shouldn’t he do the same for me if it’s so important that I’m persuaded? Have you ever heard questions like these? … Read more
Note: I wrote this originally like 8 years ago, but I figured it was well worth reviving since this is one of those zombie objections that just keeps coming back. Recently the L.A.Times ran an op-ed piece written by two atheists who use neuroscience to show us that God is a human invention. Cutting edge stuff, I … Read more
Radical Christians are trying to replace democracy with their version of Sharia law, and other crazy things people say
Beware of those evil Christians. They’re always mixing politics and religion. Don’t you know that you can’t legislate morality? Don’t impose your beliefs on me! Stop trying to make America your Christian theocracy! That’s some of the hysteria that’s out there. And there are some well-meaning Christians who are happy to agree with some of … Read more
Skeptics say “we don’t know who wrote the gospels, but it wasn’t Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John”. They’re using a double standard.
Double standards are the worst. Have you ever been on the other side of a double standard? Of course, you have. Take for example the subject of women’s breasts. OK, that was me shamelessly trying to get your attention. But now that I got your attention, hear me out. In America, it’s perfectly acceptable for … Read more
There’s this really annoying thing that I see many atheists do. Not to overgeneralize, but I’ve heard it far too often. And it’s that they will persist in defining faith as belief without evidence. Here are some notable examples: “Faith is pretending to know what you don’t know” – Peter Boghossian “Faith is belief without … Read more
There’s one terrible reason to believe the gospels were written late, and there are 7 historical reasons to believe that they were written early
Here’s a question that’s raised by skeptics from time to time. Why were the gospels written a generation after Jesus died? I mean, it’s only the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Why did it take them so long to write this thing down if it was so important? How reliable can these stories be if they … Read more
There’s a video that has been trending on YouTube from Buzzfeed that’s called “I Stopped Believing in God After Pastoring a Megachurch”. It’s like a testimony service but in reverse; something of an altar call to atheism, and it raises some interesting questions. Here’s the video: What do we say in response to something like this? … Read more