If Christ Be Not Risen

Christianity is unique among the world’s religions in that it’s grounded in a single historical event: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ did not raise His physical body from the grave after He died, though Christianity contains much we might consider true, its central message may be dismissed. (1Co 15:14) If the Resurrection didn’t occur as the Twelve Apostles claimed, Christianity is based on a lie. (15)

This begs the question: Does the evidence assure us that Jesus Christ actually did rise from the dead? The answer is: Yes. Assuming Christ didn’t rise from the dead generates a significant contradiction. This proves that He did rise from the dead.

The primary evidence for the Resurrection claim is the New Testament, containing eye-witness accounts of those who claimed to have personally encountered the risen Christ: the Twelve Apostles (Ac 1:21-22), over 500 eye-witnesses who all saw Him at one time, and finally the Apostle Paul. (1Co 15:6-8) This evidence comprises not only what these witnesses said, but also what they didn’t say, and how their lives aligned with their testimony.

The reliability of the New Testament is established by Dr. Bart Ehrman. As an atheist who rejects the historicity of the Resurrection, Ehrman may be received as authoritative here: he affirms that these writings accurately convey eye-witness accounts of historical events pertaining to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as His Resurrection. So, we’re left to consider the reliability of the witnesses themselves.

The Twelve Apostles were devout Jews with a Torah-centered world view, a truth-based value system. They claimed they saw the risen Christ repeatedly over a 40-day period, eating and drinking with Him, conversing with and being taught by Him (Ac 1:3), and physically touching Him. (Lk 24:39) If their Resurrection claim is false, the Twelve Apostles all knew they were lying and they must have had a compelling motive for conspiring together to do so.

However, the apostles expected no temporal benefit through their testimony; they anticipated and experienced severe hardship and suffering. (1Co 4:9-13) If the Resurrection were a false hope, the apostles admitted they themselves were to be pitied above all men. (1Co 15:19) People with a truth-centered world view do not do this consistently, gladly sacrifice themselves for what they know is a lie.

Further, a crucified/resurrected Messiah was entirely unexpected and totally unacceptable within their Jewish community (1Co 1:23), which expected a military conqueror to deliver them from Roman oppression (Ac 1:6), and the Twelve Apostles undertook their mission with no interest in evangelizing non-Jews (Ac 11:19): they didn’t intend to start a new religion. (Ac 21:20)

So, if the Apostles were lying, they crafted a message they knew would be terribly unpopular, and for which they expected to be severely persecuted, and they consistently gave their all to share it. Sane people don’t act like this, especially in large groups.

Assuming Christ didn’t rise from the dead as the Twelve Apostles claimed thus implies a basic contradiction in human nature, based on the overwhelming, historically reliable witness of those who gave their lives to tell us about it. Further, since well over 500 souls are involved, this contradiction must be acknowledged on a massive scale.

Such evidence establishes the Resurrection of Jesus Christ beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet do our presuppositions and biases blind us?

What will it cost us to believe in the Resurrection? Or to not believe?

Either way, in the end, this will cost us everything, as it should. (Mt 10:39)

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal event of history: it changes everything. (Ac 17:30-31)

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8 thoughts on “If Christ Be Not Risen”

  1. Here is an article presenting a very similar argument, with some helpful references.

    Ehrman offers no historical evidence supporting his rejection of the Resurrection; his grounds are evidently philosophical.

  2. It is important to emphasize that, in addition to not expecting any temporal benefits for their witness, the Apostles and early Christians were all Jewish and had no interest in engaging Gentiles with the Gospel, even though Christ had commanded them to do so.

    For years after Christ’s death, the disciples were still presenting the Good News of the Resurrection only to Jews (Ac 11:19 – “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.”); they were obediently following Rabbinic tradition which forbade Jewish associations with non-Jews. (Ac 10:28 “And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”)

    This observation underscores the fact that the Apostolic witness was not motivated by a desire to start a new religion. These were Jews telling their fellow Jews that their long-awaited Messiah had no interest in delivering them from Roman occupation, as they had all been hoping, but that He had come to set them free from sin and spiritual bondage instead.

    The Gospel was therefore terribly unpopular with most people, who were struggling for temporal freedom and earthly prosperity. Jewish leadership had already totally rejected the message and was actively persecuting the Apostles, having excommunicated them from Jewish culture and life. (Jn 9:22 – “These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”)

    There is no apparent motivation for the Apostles to preach the Resurrection if they knew it was a lie.

  3. This type of proof is called “Proof by Contradiction”, and also “Indirect Proof”. It is commonly used in Mathematics and Logic, often an elegant and efficient way to establish a claim.

  4. Thinking the evidence for the Resurrection is insufficient, one might ask, “Just what would it take to convince me?”

    I’ve not been able to imagine a more reliable testimony than the apostles have given us. What else could there be?

    Miracles never have convinced the masses (“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, ‘Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?'” Jn 12:37-38); neither has earnest debate. (“And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” Ac 6:10-11) There isn’t much left.

    Evidently, God must give us a love for truth and open our eyes in order for us to believe in and follow Him. (“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jn 1:12-13) If we’re willing to submit to Him, He will give us the evidence we need and lead us into all truth. (“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Mt 7:7-8)

  5. The apostles documented the ministry and teachings of Christ so as to offer what many consider the personification of the ideal, perfect Man. After enduring intense scrutiny from leading intellects for two millennia, there appears to be no obvious flaw in how they depicted Jesus Christ.

    If the apostles were indeed lying about the Resurrection, they must also have been lying about the works and words of Christ, for no mere mortal could have done what they have claimed of Christ.

    We ought then to esteem the apostles among the most wicked of all men, for deliberately creating such a profound lie, giving false hope to billions, exhorting all to be willing to suffer and die for this lie, for no reward or benefit for such sacrifice.

    So, if we reject their Resurrection claim, we accept the paradox of the most maliciously evil men somehow creating the image of the perfect Man for us to admire, imitate and follow, again contradicting human nature.

  6. Note carefully the content of the message the Apostles would have been lying to promote.

    When intelligent people fabricate a lie to obtain a following, they don’t:
    [A] lie about things which can easily be debunked;
    [B] make themselves out to appear weak, cowardly and faithless, just like normal people; or
    [C] deliberately repel and offend those they seek to win.

    [1] A resurrection lie would have been promptly debunked by Roman guards producing the body.
    [2] The narrative shows the disciples to be unfaithful, timid and unbelieving prior to the Resurrection. (Mk 16:14)
    [3] A crucified/resurrected Messiah was not only deeply offensive to their own Jewish community, it was regarded as stupidity by most everyone else. (1Co 1:23)

    This is not the kind of lie a cult of ambitious charlatans would invent.

    And if they did, they would not entrust it to a very large group of supposed eye-witnesses, which would of necessity also have to be privy to the lie, and just as committed to suffering for it as the apostles were, over which they had no control, nor any ability to monitor and protect.

  7. Consider also how indirect proof uses the very existence of Christianity as living proof: if Christ didn’t rise from the dead we cannot rightly account for Christianity itself.

    The story goes that the apostolic witness was so powerful, so authentic and convincing, a great many people believed and were transformed by it. Based on their testimony, these new disciples were also willing to sacrifice their lives rather than denounce the Resurrection. This is verified in secular Roman history, that the early Christians were willing to be fed to lions rather than recant their faith in a living, resurrected, ascended Messiah.

    There is no point in the history of Christianity where it is conceivable to claim that the concept of a resurrected savior was introduced as a lie, and not present as the foundational fact of Christianity from the very beginning. Such a basic change in the message and claim of Christianity could not have been introduced later with any credibility whatsoever, without any evidence of this transition occurring, with no one mentioning anything about it. There is zero evidence of this in the either the secular or sacred historical records.

    Postulating that Christianity can be accounted for apart from the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, according to the apostolic witness, thus contradicts human nature on an even grander scale than shown in the above post.

  8. It is easy to conflate the compelling nature of the Resurrection with the validity of what we have come to call Christianity.

    We should not be gullible here: something as powerful as the Resurrection would certainly be leveraged by the corrupt and power-hungry to control the masses via counterfeit religion.

    Unless we see compelling reasons to believe otherwise, knowing human nature as it is, we are wise in suspecting most of institutionalized Christianity to be little more than this.

    Look very carefully for any deviation of organized religion, in doctrine, practice or in leadership style, from the the Scripture, and note each one with particular concern.

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