Tag Archive: Resurrection from the Dead

How Do I Explain “Eyewitness” Testimonies of the Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead?

easter

Recently, an inquirer asked me:

Why would somebody think they saw the risen Christ. I do not understand the phenomena going on there. Do you have any insight from your readings? Granted, Islam claims Mohammad flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse and on the way back, saw a caravan – which he then told people the next day and the caravan arrived when he said it would. I am not sure if you know the story, but in general, it is a claim that cannot be easily explained away other than it is just bogus in general.

Why would people say they saw a resurrected Jesus if, in fact, they hadn’t seen him? What possible reason could they have had for lying, right? For some people, this one issue keeps them awake at night and keeps them from walking away from Christianity.  Worried that they might have wrong beliefs or might end up in hell for not believing in the risen Christ, people hang on to ancient myths, thinking that it is better to be safe than eternally sorry.

I could write thousands of words on this subject, but with this post, all I want to do is give a few of the reasons why I think Jesus still lies buried somewhere in Palestine.

First, human history and personal experience tell me that when people die they stay dead. Cemeteries are reminders of the fact that once people die, they ain’t coming back. It’s all about probabilities. If I died today and were buried in a ground, what are the odds that I would miraculously reappear alive three days later? Zero. Nada. Zip. None. Not going to happen. So it is for Jesus.

Second, the only places we find reports about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are the Bible or from later Christian sources. There are no purely secular reports attesting to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All we have is the Bible. Christians, out of hand, reject the notion that Muhammad flew to Jerusalem on a winged horse because it appears in the Quran, a religious text they deem to be mythical and false. Yet, when it comes to the Bible, its stories are viewed as historical facts, narratives of what really happened. Why the duplicity in belief? The simple answer, of course, it that all of us tend to believe as true the stories of our tribes. Christians believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead because they have been told from their youth onward that God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross for their sins, and three days later resurrected from the dead, thereby vanquishing sin and death, and granting to all those who believe eternal life. When this story is drilled into Christians’ head over and over and over again, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, it should come no as surprise, then, that Christians believe Jesus is still alive, biding his time until he returns to earth to make all things new.

Take, for example, Mormonism. Talk about a crackpot, bat-shit crazy, religion, yet millions of Americans believe that Joseph Smith found golden plates translated them. Wikipedia describes the “historical” narrative of Mormonism this way:

Joseph Smith claimed The Book of Mormon was translated from writing on golden plates in a reformed Egyptian language, translated with the assistance of the Urim and Thummim and seer stones. Both the special spectacles and the seer stone were at times referred to as the “Urim and Thummim”. He said an angel first showed him the location of the plates in 1823, buried in a nearby hill, but he was not allowed to take the plates until 1827. Smith began dictating the text of The Book of Mormon around the fall of 1827 until the summer of 1828 when 116 pages were lost. Translation began again in April 1829 and finished in June 1829, saying that he translated it “by the gift and power of God”. After the translation was completed, Smith said the plates were returned to the angel. During Smith’s supposed possession, very few people were allowed to “witness” the plates.

The book described itself as a chronicle of an early Israelite diaspora, integrating with the pre-existing indigenous peoples of the Americas, written by a people called the Nephites. According to The Book of Mormon, Lehi’s family left Jerusalem at the urging of God c. 600 BC, and later sailed to the Americas c. 589 BC. The Nephites are described as descendants of Nephi, the fourth son of the prophet Lehi. The Nephites are portrayed as having a belief in Christ hundreds of years before his birth. Historical accuracy and veracity of the Book of Mormon was and continues to be hotly contested. No archaeological, linguistic, or other evidence of the use of Egyptian writing in ancient America has been discovered.

How is Mormonism any different from Christianity? Shouldn’t we accept their stories as true? After all, they are found in a divine religious text. So it is with the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus. Just because something is found in the Bible doesn’t make it true. There’s no historical reason for anyone to believe that Jesus not only resurrected from the dead two thousand years ago, but is still alive today. I am not saying that Jesus, as a man, is a work of fiction, but the supernatural events attributed to him have no historical foundation. As such, I am free to reject them out of hand. This is why believing in the resurrection of Jesus requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Third, the gospels are not eyewitness accounts, nor were they likely written by the likes of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Whatever the original authors of the gospels might have written, we will never know. Those original documents no longer exist. All we have are copies of copies of copies of copies, with thousands of variants among them. This is why I snort and laugh when Evangelical pastors, thinking they are taking some sort of intellectually superior high road, say that they believe the original documents were inerrant. How can they know this, not having seen the original manuscripts? Again, belief in inerrancy requires faith, a faith I do not have.

While it is possible that extant gospel manuscripts accurately reflect what actually happened, it is far more likely that the stories about the resurrected Jesus were added after the fact. This includes stories about Jesus walking through walls, appearing to his disciples/public without Roman/Jewish authorities finding out, and countless graves being opened, people arising from the dead, and walking the streets of Jerusalem. All of these stories were meant to turn Jesus into a supernatural being. Supernatural religions require mythical stories, so it doesn’t surprise me that Christianity is rife with such beliefs (beliefs, by the way, that continue to change and evolve).

Fourth, why didn’t reports of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his post-resurrection exploits, and the dead walking the streets of Jerusalem make it into the news? Surely, a Roman or Jewish writer would have written something down about these earth-shattering events. Yet, apart from the Bible and a handful of Christians sources, history is silent.  Why is that? Perhaps, the silence reflects the fact that these things never happened, that they are, at best, myths used to convey some sort of spiritual meaning.

Fifth, if the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central belief of Christianity, why did God make sure that no one wrote anything about it outside of the Bible and a handful of Christian sources? Why hide in obscurity the biggest event in human history? This, of course, can be said about most of the big events recorded in the Bible: Moses and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, the story of King David, the story of Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and flood, and countless other stories many Christians believe are historical facts. Why did the God of creation, the God who controls everything, leave blank the pages of human history when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection and the other important events previously mentioned?

The same could be said of the doctrine of salvation. If the most important decision people ever make is to put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ, why does the Bible present several different plans of salvation? (Please read Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved? Does the Bible Contain Multiple Plans of Salvation?  Is There Only One Plan of Salvation? If Salvation is by Grace and Not by Works) Why wouldn’t God make it crystal clear as to what we must do to be saved? Perhaps, the reason for all the confusion is that the Bible is not divine, that it a human book written by men with varying agendas.

Let me conclude by saying that the reason that I am not a Christian is that Christianity doesn’t make sense to me. Last April, I wrote a post titled The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense. Here’s some of what I said:

In recent months, I have started using The Michael Mock Rule when engaging Evangelicals who have their hearts set on winning me back to Jesus. Instead of endlessly debating and discussing this or that doctrine, I invoke The Michael Mock Rule : It just doesn’t make sense.

Consider the following Evangelical beliefs. Do they make sense to you?

  • The Bible is a divine text? Inerrant text? Infallible text?
  • God is one person, in three parts: Father, son, and Holy Spirit?
  • Universe created in six twenty-four-hour days?
  • Adam and Eve the first humans and the mother and father of the human race?
  • Adam and Eve were tempted to sin by a talking snake who walked upright?
  • All humans are sinners because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from a forbidden tree?
  • The story of Noah, the Ark, and universal flood?
  • The Tower of Babel?
  • Fallen angels having sex with human women, producing hybrid children?
  • Jesus is God in the flesh?
  • Jesus was born of a virgin? His mother was impregnated by the Holy Spirit?
  • Jesus walked on water? Turned water into wine? Healed blindness? Walked through walls?
  • Jesus died and resurrected from the dead three days later?
  • Jesus ascended to heaven?
  • Jesus will return to earth someday, destroying the earth and making all things new?
  • All humans are sinners in need of salvation, broken in need of fixing?
  • Blood atonement for sin?
  • Life without Jesus is meaningless and without purpose?
  • All that matters in life is Jesus?
  • If I believe in Jesus I go to heaven when I die, if don’t believe I go to hell?
  • Rapture? Dead people coming back to life?

Evangelicals routinely make the above assertions without presenting any evidence for their claims — and quoting the Bible is not evidence. These claims are reinforced Sunday after Sunday through sermons, Sunday school lessons, and songs. Through the week, Evangelicals read Christian literature, listen to Christian podcasts and music, and tune in to Christian radio and TV stations. These followers of Jesus are surrounded by people who, minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, reinforce these “truth” claims. Having been immersed in Evangelicalism their entire lives, Christians find that these beliefs make perfect sense.

But for those who have never lived in the Evangelical bubble or no longer do so, these beliefs just don’t make sense. Believing them requires a suspension of rational thought. Believing them requires putting faith above facts, knowledge, and evidence. Believing them requires setting skepticism aside. Believing them requires accepting the most outlandish of things as true. The Michael Mock Rule says to all of these beliefs: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.

Making sense of Christianity requires faith, a faith that I do not have. I am unwilling (and anyone using Pascal’s Wager in a comment will immediately be banned) to surrender the only life I will ever have in the minuscule hope that Jesus really did resurrect from the dead and that an eternal home in heaven awaits me if I will but believe the gospel and be saved. Besides, based on what I read in the Bible and hear from Christians, heaven doesn’t appeal to me. Spending eternity worshiping a narcissistic deity who consigned billions of people to endless torture for believing in the wrong deity doesn’t sound like something I want to do.

What are your thoughts on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Death and the Afterlife: Things Christians Say That Aren’t in the Bible 

heaven and hell

One thing the religious have in common with non-believers is the fact that they will someday die. Death is the great equalizer. No matter our wealth and status, or lack thereof, there will come a day when each of us will draw his or her last breath. No second chances, no do-overs. All of us, at one time or the other, have pondered our mortality. The older we get, the more we think about death.

It should come as no surprise then that most people turn to religion to find answers about death and the possibility of an afterlife. All the major religions of the world teach that there is life after death, be it in a resurrected or reincarnated form. Being the rational creatures we are, we can’t bear thoughts of no longer existing. Countless Evangelicals have asked me, surely you believe that there is SOMETHING after this life? Other Evangelicals have told me that they would have no reason to live if there weren’t life after death.

Sunday after Sunday, millions of Americans gather in church buildings to worship a God that purportedly not only forgives their sins, but gives them eternal life in heaven after they die. If religious belief was only of value in this life and paid out no after-death benefits, I suspect many of the people pledging fealty and devotion to the Christian God on Sundays would instead spend the first day of the week engaging in recreation, working in their yards, or relaxing. Remove sin, fear, judgment, and eternal life from the script and I have no doubt that most churches would find themselves not only without congregants, but without preachers too.

Generally, the orthodox Christian belief about the afterlife goes something like this: each of us dies, physically remains in the grave until judgment Day, at which time God will bodily resurrect the just and unjust from the dead, judge them, and either send them to God’s eternal kingdom (Heaven) or the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity. The former is a blissful place where there is no sin, pain, suffering, or death, whereas the latter is a dark place where its inhabitants face horrific pain and suffering. Both the just (saved) and unjust (lost) will be fitted with new bodies (creations) that never die, and for those cast in the Lake of Fire, their bodies will be able to withstand never-ending torture and torment.

Now, seek out one hundred Evangelicals and ask them about death and the afterlife, and they will tell you something like this: after death, Christians go to Heaven, and non-Christians go to hell.  Does what I have written here remotely sound like what I wrote in the previous paragraph? Nope. Most Christians believe that the moment after they close their eyes in death, they will awake in Heaven and be in the presence of God. The Bible, supposedly the final authority on all matter pertaining to life, death, and the afterlife, does not teach that Christians go to Heaven the moment they die. Neither does it teach that non-Christians go to hell after death. Every person who has ever died presently lies rotting in the grave, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not so sexy to tell people that their reserved rooms in Heaven and Hell will remain empty until Resurrection Day.  Peter? James? Judas? Moses? David? Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Adam? Eve?  John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Your parents, grandparents? None of them is or will be in Heaven or Hell until the trumpet of God sounds and Jesus returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Yet, every Sunday, Christian preachers remind congregants of what awaits them after death: Heaven for the saved, and Hell for the lost. Unsaved people are implored to get saved lest they die and split hell wide open. Christians are encouraged to work hard for Jesus and promised great rewards in Heaven if they do so.  Preachers tell wonderful stories about Heaven and horrific stories about Hell, reminding people that the sum of life is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Attend Christian funerals and you will often hear preachers outright lie about the afterlife. I have yet to hear a preacher say that the dearly departed went to hell. In every instance, preachers found some sliver of faith/belief to hang on to, thus justifying their preaching the subject of their funeral sermon into heaven. Worse yet, preachers and family members will speak of Granny running around Heaven or Mom, Dad, and Rover too looking down from Heaven watching their loved ones. I have heard countless Christians say that some close family member of theirs was “with them” as they did this or that. None of these hopeful ideas is supported by the teachings of the Bible. Granny isn’t running in Heaven. Her bodies lies in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection. As nice as it sounds, and the warm, fuzzy feelings such thoughts give, no one is watching us from Pearly Gates.

Of course, as an atheist, I am firmly persuaded that death is the end-all. To misquote Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this … nothing. I have one life to live and it is quickly passing by. It seems like yesterday that my wife and I, ages nineteen and twenty-one, were standing at the front of the Newark Baptist Temple altar, reciting our wedding vows to one another. Youthful in body and ready to take on the world, we had no thoughts of growing old. Yet, here we are, soon celebrating our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and in less than a month I will turn sixty. Now our thoughts turn to end-of-life matters: retirement, healthcare, and what to do with the few years we have left.  My older readers know exactly what I am talking about. Who among us hasn’t lain in bed listening to the beat of our heart or the ticking of the clock. We know that each beat and each tick take us one moment closer to our last day among the living.

Bruce, if you don’t think there is life after death, why then did you spend most of this post talking about what Christians believe about death and the afterlife? This post is a plea to preachers to tell people the truth about life after death. First, preachers should tell people that they cannot know for certain whether there is life after death; that all that Christians have to go on is what is written in the Bible; that the belief that people live on after death is solely a matter of faith; that there is no evidence for claims that people live on in eternity after they die. Second, preachers should stop telling people lies about what happens the moment after someone dies. Stop with the whimsical stories about what dead people are doing in Heaven. Tell the truth: Granny lies rotting in the grave until Jesus comes to get her. If preachers are going to tell mythical stories about the afterlife, the least they can do is accurately state what the Bible says on the matter. Of course, doing so might cause people to lose hope, but Christians need to know that there is NOT an immediate payoff after death.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt from a Time Magazine interview of Christian theologian N.T. Wright:

TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a “distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.”

Wright: It really is. I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it’s unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.

TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.

TIME: But it’s not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: “God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.” That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ’s kingdom.

Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.

TIME: That sounds a lot like… work.

Wright: It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you transpose that all the way through, it’s a picture like the one that you get at the end of Revelation.

TIME: And it ties into what you’ve written about this all having a moral dimension.

Wright: Both that, and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their “souls going to Heaven.” If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.

TIME: That’s very different from, say, the vision put out in the Left Behind books.

Wright: Yes. If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.

TIME: Has anyone you’ve talked to expressed disappointment at the loss of the old view?

Wright: Yes, you might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting simply to be with them. And I’d say that’s understandable. But the end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God’s plan. And in almost all cases, when I’ve explained this to people, there’s a sense of excitement and a sense of, “Why haven’t we been told this before?”

What are some of the other things that Christians say about death, heaven, and hell that either aren’t in the Bible or are distorted by preachers? Please share them in the comment section.