As Christians on social media, we often encounter daily attacks on our faith waged by nonbelievers and cynics with strong desires to plant seeds of doubt. When we examine their attacks, however, we find them without merit. I have outlined a few recent arguments against Jesus’ resurrection from nonbelievers, along with responses.
- Early apostles and disciples merely had “visions” of Jesus
Even cynics acknowledge the apostles and early disciples of Jesus believed they saw the risen Christ, though some claim the disciples’ sightings were mere visions. Some claim early apostles like Peter, John, and Jesus’ ½ brother James “hallucinated” or had an experience in which they saw an “after-death” vision of their loved one due to their “deep emotional trauma.”
- Mass hallucinations are impossible (just as shared dreams are impossible), so if they were hallucinations, they would have had to be individual, almost identical, and coincidental.
- Hallucinations and visions of a loved one while mourning his passing do not drive people to spend decades without any legal protections preaching that the loved one rose from the dead. Preaching a resurrection resulted in no material benefits and only public condemnation. They received no material benefits (e.g., money, sex, glory, or power).
- Visions and dreams of loved ones who have deceased are primarily reserved for the aged and provide short-term relief.
- The apostles and early Christian disciples said they saw Jesus in His new bodily form. No one in ancient times claimed that the apostles had hallucinations or saw only visions and dreams.
- Peter’s martyrdom upside down on a cross after over two decades of preaching was documented by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen.
- James’ martyrdom after over two decades of preaching was documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria.
Some claim the apostle Paul (who was in the midst of plans to persecute Christians when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus around 38 A.D.) “felt guilty” and converted after having his own “vision” of Jesus.
- They ignore the fact that after repeating the very early Christian creed of 1 Corinthians 15 (which skeptics note was memorized and recorded within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion), Paul said that he, too, saw the risen Christ. Paul said that after Peter and the twelve saw the risen Christ – and after Jesus appeared to his ½ brother James and five hundred others (many of whom were alive to testify when Paul wrote his letter) he saw Jesus. Jesus appeared both individually to His disciples (such as Mary Magdalene) and in groups. He ate with them, let them touch Him, and appeared multiple times to them over a period of forty days.
- Paul preached for decades, braving multiple instances of beatings, stoning, and imprisonment. Paul ended up beheaded by Nero between 62 A.D. and 64 A.D. (confirmed by Eusebius, the first church historian, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, and Origen).
- Paul wrote between six and thirteen books of the New Testament, which attest to Jesus’ divinity, resurrection, faith, and perfection.
- The movement spread quickly because it was centered in the transportation “hub” of Jerusalem, facilitating an expedient delivery of information.
- No matter where the movement was centered, the information spread quickly throughout the Roman Empire from the footsteps and determination of only a handful of peace-loving and powerless men.
- Jesus called on Christians to bring the Good News to all ends of the earth. Christianity’s early disciples were active and transformative, empowered by our active, transformative, immanent, and transcendent God. The only other religion in which early followers desired to grow the faith rapidly (Islam) and globally was powered by early warriors who desired to grow power, land, and influence via conquering and murdering nonbelievers.
- Today over two billion Christians populate every country in the world – and Christianity is the only religion not primarily clustered around its original country hub.
- A movement based on mere dreams, hallucinations and visions of a few men (Peter, Paul, John and James) would have garnered skepticism, particularly since the risk of following Christianity was much greater materially than the benefits. Witness the way Nero executed early Christians in gory ways, as reported by Tacitus.
- Compare the way movements based on a handful of relatively powerless men and their visions and dreams have died out (e.g., Jonestown, Waco).
- Compare the way we would react today to a few men showing up at our door with stories of having seen a man rise from the dead. We would be skeptical and would need support from others who had either witnessed the resurrection or witnessed miracles afterwards. People in the ancient world were no less likely to be skeptical. We have numerous examples of ancient-world skeptics, from Epicurus to Zeno of Citium to Marcus Aurelius. Even Peter was skeptical during Jesus’ ministry, as he doubted his ability to walk next to Jesus on water. He also denied Jesus three times. Jesus’ own family was skeptical too as they tried in vain to stop His ministry.
- We have eyewitness testimonies from multiple authors in the New Testament: Matthew, an unlikely choice in the group of twelve; John, Paul, Peter, Jude, and James. We further have careful accounts from Luke (a traveler with Paul) and Mark (a friend of Peter).
- Without the miracles performed by the apostles in the early church movement, people would have had to believe the eyewitnesses on their words rather than their actions. The apostles’ miracles offered further substantiation to support the claims of the eyewitnesses.
- Jesus was buried in a “mass grave,” consistent with Roman burial practices.
- We have ZERO ancient support for the notion that Jesus was buried in a mass grave.
- We have support from the Gospels indicating He was buried by a member of the “enemy” group, the Sanhedrin (Joseph of Arimathea) in his private tomb. This meets the criterion of embarrassment. Consider why Jesus’ own family or apostles did not remove Him from the cross. They were in hiding, afraid for their own lives.
- We have support from the Gospels that 2nd class citizens (women) discovered the empty tomb, which also meets the criterion of embarrassment.
- Jews and Romans of the time did not contest the empty tomb burial account.
- Jews invented a story to indicate someone “stole” Jesus’ body.
- No one produced Jesus’ body.
4. The Gospels were “anonymous.”
- Early church fathers attributed the early gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We have zero evidence of attributions in the ancient world to anyone else.
- Matthew was a tax collector, which would have been an unpopular choice to invent as the author of a Gospel.
- Mark was a friend of Peter. If they wanted to fabricate authors and attributions, they would have attributed his Gospel to Peter.
- Luke was a doctor and non-eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrection, who traveled with Paul and referred to himself in the first person starting in Acts 16. Because he was not an apostle, the choice of Luke as an “invented” author seems unlikely.
- John was an apostle and eyewitness of Jesus. He referred to himself at the end of his Gospel as the one whom Jesus loved. He further said in John 21:24-25: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
In conclusion, I hope these rebuttals to a few claims I have discovered from nonbelievers help you to draw your own informed conclusions about Jesus of Nazareth. I have drawn mine.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
Thank you for your time.