Christmas is over, time to get on to Easter. Someone in Malawi is about to have a debate on national TV with a Christian about the Resurrection accounts and I have been asked to help provide some ideas for the debate, so here goes.
There are three aspects to the debunking of the Resurrection:
1) The Gospels are not reliable sources of information; they are poor quality evidence
2) The claims of the Resurrection are incredible claims which require very good quality evidence
3) If the Christian claims of the Resurrection are not true, then what, if anything, actually took place, and what hypothesis can better explain the data?
Let us look at the first aspect in this post, point 1).
The Gospels are not reliable. This much is true in at least a number of places (not least the Resurrection), but in the places where they could be reliable, we have no way of verifying or knowing they are.
Firstly, I have documented in my book The Nativity: A Critical Examination the plethora of contradictions and issues with just two of the Gospels, bizarrely the only two to mention the birth of Jesus.
We don’t know for sure, but can only guess:
- Who wrote the Gospels
- When they were written
- Where they were written
- Who the sources were
What we do know is that they were written by people who already believed in Jesus as Messiah, were not eyewitnesses, were trying to evangelise and thus had open agendas and were not writing objective history, were writing 50-100 years after the death of the person they were writing about, and had no recognisable historical methodology which we can see in other contemporaneous historians.
It’s not looking good.
Here is what I wrote in another post:
Why is it more probable that your god exists than man made him up?
We have an exceptionally high prior probability that your god is false given that we both believe that every other god claimed to be true (before and after) is false. Thus, on prior probability, the JC God is HIGHLY unlikely to exist. How does the Christian overcome this? They have to provide high CONSEQUENT probability. ie Evidence. But this is poor. Let’s take the four Gospels, written by unknown people at unknown dates in unknown places with ex post facto agendas to evangelise, at least 40 years after the person they are writing about and whom they have never met, has died.
Let us analogise. I really get into David Koresh. I dig him. I come to believe NOW (actually, in another 20 years plus, to be accurate), whilst in another country, that David Koresh was the living Messiah. But, remember, I have no telephone or internet, car or public transport, to research this etc. Now, after being converted, coming to already claim that this guy is the Messiah, I THEN write a ‘history’ or account of this guy and his Messiahship. Remember, I have never met him, and there is no way of knowing (and it is unlikely, given my geography) whether have met any of his disciples. I call myself an evangelist, one whose job it is to convince other people using persuasive techniques, of the Messiahship of Koresh.
Would you think this is a reliable account of David Koresh? Should MY account be trusted?
Not on your nelly, sunshine!
Taking just one little portion of the accounts: Matthew 27. Dead and resurrected Saints appear, parading around Jerusalem for many to see. Except no one else in the world apart from Matthew, writing int he context stated above, makes note of this. No Jew ever mentions what would have been, for them, the greatest thing ever seen.
Or take the idea that the nativity accounts (a point I bring up in my nativity book available from the sidebar) stake claims on the ‘facts’ of Jesus’ birth. They are pretty much the only cross-referencable claims in the NT. Matthew and Luke fail on every claim. They are empirically wrong. So given the basis that the first claims in two of the Gospels are empirically false, and these are the only ones which are verifiable, on what basis do we have the right to believe the rest of the Gospel claims, which are not verifiable? Wedding at Cana? Who was there? How do we know? etc. These are miracle claims which happen in rather unverifiable, nebulous contexts. And yet people are happy to drop the Nativity when it gets into difficulty and believe these nebulous claims?
Of the Gospel accounts, we should be thoroughly skeptical.
As far as the Resurrection goes, there are many contradictions.
As Bob Seidensticker states in his Cross Examined blog:
How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection? Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).
When Jesus died, did an earthquake open the graves of many people, who walked around Jerusalem and were seen by many? Only Matthew reports this remarkable event. It’s hard to imagine any reliable version of the story omitting this zombie apocalypse.
The different accounts of the resurrection are full of contradictions like this. They can’t even agree on whether Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover (John) or the day after (the other gospels).
- What were the last words of Jesus? Three gospels give three different versions.
- Who buried Jesus? Matthew says that it was Joseph of Arimathea. No, apparently it was the Jews and their rulers, all strangers to Jesus (Acts).
- How many women came to the tomb Easter morning? Was it one, as told in John? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)?
- Did an angel cause a great earthquake that rolled back the stone in front of the tomb? Yes, according to Matthew. The other gospels are silent on this extraordinary detail.
- Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark) or two (Luke and John)?
- Was the tomb already open when they got there? Matthew says no; the other three say yes.
- Did the women tell the disciples? Matthew and Luke make clear that they did so immediately. But Mark says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And that’s where the book ends, which makes it a mystery how Mark thinks that the resurrection story ever got out.
- Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb? That makes sense—the tomb was empty and Jesus’s body was gone. At least, that’s the story according to John. But wait a minute—in Matthew’s account, the women were “filled with joy.”
- Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus? Of course! She’d known him for years. At least, Matthew says that she did. But John and Luke make clear that she didn’t.
- Could Jesus’s followers touch him? John says no; the other gospels say yes.
- Where did Jesus tell the disciples to meet him? In Galilee (Matthew and Mark) or Jerusalem (Luke and Acts)?
- Who saw Jesus resurrected? Paul says that a group of over 500 people saw him (1 Cor. 15:6). Sounds like crucial evidence, but why don’t any of the gospels record it?
- Should the gospel be preached to everyone? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to “teach all nations.” But hold on—in the same book he says, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5). Which is it?
And there are lots more.
The question then becomes, are these contradictions better explained, and are the claims themselves, better explained by an ultimate truth in them, or by an alternative theory? We know from the nativity accounts that when the claims of the Gospels are verifiable and cross-referencable with external sources, they fail dismally. Therefore, on what basis are further claims (which themselves might be internally inconsistent like the Resurrection claims) believable when one cannot cross-reference them or verify them whatsoever? These are literally incredible claims, so the evidence must be pretty damned good to make them believable. How do we know what was privately being said by Pilate, who recorded all of these speeches on the hoof, who are the sources whom we can check? Why is there not one single external reference or witness to any of Jesus’ amazing miracles?
Sathya Sai Baba in India has far more miracles, attested to with more technology and by a far greater number than Jesus had. He has more followers. And yet Christians do not believe him to be a miracle worker!
No, the evidence is shoddy, utterly filled with unknowns and contradictions and a lack of verifiability.