THE IRREFUTABLE CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION: How David K. Clark’s Risible “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ” (Free Inquiry, April/May 2014) Strengthens the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

THE IRREFUTABLE CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION: How David K. Clark’s Risible “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ” (Free Inquiry, April/May 2014) Strengthens the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

© 2014, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Part 1: David K. Clark’s Super New Argument

 Attempts to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ date back all the way to the very day of the resurrection itself, when the tomb guards who reported this event to the chief priests were told to “‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept”’” (Matthew 28:13).  This is not surprising, inasmuch as the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non of Christianity; if Jesus rose bodily from the dead then He is indeed all that He claimed to be, and we must bow the knee to Him and acknowledge Him as Lord.  Those who do not wish to do so must, therefore, discredit the accounts of the Resurrection.[1]

That first attempt to do so was patently absurd, and it would have been great fun to watch it in operation:

Tomb Guard:         “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.”

Thinking Person:  “Yeah?  If you were sleeping, how do you know what happened?  How can you know what happened while you were sleeping?  Hello-o!”

In subsequent centuries, and particularly with the rise of liberal scholarship in the 17th century, many more attempts have been made, which run the gamut from those with a patina of plausibility[2] to those that are utterly ridiculous.[3]  Whether initially plausible or ridiculous, however, every such attempt has been thoroughly debunked,[4] and it is rare to find a new and original attack on the historicity of the resurrection.

David K. Clark, a philosophy teacher at the University of Montana, thinks he has one.  In his article entitled “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ,” published in Free Inquiry[5], he confidently asserts that

we can know that Jesus was not the resurrected Son of God.

Moreover, he promises to prove this from the Gospel books themselves, claiming that

it is not difficult to establish – utilizing nothing more than the Gospels themselves – that Jesus was not resurrected.

Clark has certainly given himself a tall task.  The evidence in favour of the resurrection is overwhelming and, as Clark himself acknowledges, “For those who have sought to oppose the authenticity of the resurrection, options have been appallingly few” and consist mainly of “decisively marginalized … desperate attacks.[6]  We have, inter alia, the four Gospel books, which are four eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ death and His subsequent post-resurrection appearances;[7] we have Jesus’ followers publicly proclaiming His resurrection within weeks of His crucifixion (which was never done for any other of the many claimants to the title of Jewish Messiah) by and to people in a position to know whether these claims were true; we have these people preaching and believing the resurrection even at the cost of persecution and in many cases death; and we have the eyewitness challenge issued by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 implicitly inviting people to verify his preaching about the resurrection by checking with at least two hundred and fifty living eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus.[8]

Nevertheless, Clark insists not only that he can disprove the resurrection, but that he can do so from the Gospel books themselves.  Although these books explicitly teach that Jesus rose from the dead and was subsequently seen by eyewitnesses[9], Clark curiously asserts that “these very writings serve instead to reveal the exact opposite.

He continues:

it is astounding to realize that it is the Gospels themselves that shatter the very cornerstone of faith for which they stand guard.

And just in case the reader has still missed this point, Clark says again,

we will see that the fatal weakness of the Gospel message lies at the very heart of the passion narrative itself.  The Gospels themselves provide the means of exposing the deception that lurks within them.

Bold claims, indeed, and we wait with bated breath for Clark to set about backing them up.

Clark obviously believes he can do so.  In fact, he thinks that the new and “completely independent” super argument he will offer is so ironclad that any “final salvo … from those who would seek to restore the Gospel accounts of a literal resurrection as if straight from the annals of history … cannot succeed … no success will be forthcoming from appeals to history.”  Naturally, we shall reserve judgment on that until we examine his super new argument.  Here it is:

There was no audience gathered at the tomb to see the resurrection of Jesus.

This is Clark’s super argument.  He explains it thus:

In order to conduct our evaluation, we need only to entertain exactly one question: At the time Jesus was to rise up from the dead, exactly where was everyone? … Where were the Pharisees, the Romans, and all of those whose futures were thought to be at stake in the outcome?

Clark argues that “it is obvious that the prospect of such an event would raise the excitement level off the charts,” but no one was there, waiting at the tomb, for Jesus to rise from the dead.  “Why?” asks Clark, and he insists that “The answer is that the very idea of the resurrection of Jesus had not occurred to anyone.  No one, absolutely no one, anticipated any such event.  Otherwise, [they] would have been there.

From this, Clark concludes that

the claim that Jesus was going to be resurrected was simply not a part of his teaching.  If it had been, Resurrection Day would have been well attended.

This, then, is Clark’s “stunning surprise,” his “blockbuster result.”  This is what Clark presents as proof that “the basic account of the resurrection itself [does not] rise to any acceptable level of credibility.”  To summarize his super argument, he says

The very notion of the heralded Resurrection Day without the requisite audience is silly!

Clark believes that “the conclusion is, really, so painfully obvious” and wonders “How could anyone, indeed, everyone, miss this?

It does not seem to occur to him that perhaps no one has actually missed this fact but instead no one considers it to be a telling argument – or, indeed, any argument at all.  Even if we should expect an audience at the tomb, it seems absurd to think that the lack of one could overturn the copious evidence for the resurrection that we have already listed.  However, it is not necessary to debate this, for Clark’s super argument simply does not stand up to scrutiny, as a careful examination will show.  Let us proceed to do that.

Clark’s contention that there should have been a sizeable audience gathered at the tomb awaiting Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally depends upon the following points being true:

  • That many people knew about Jesus’ promised resurrection on the third day
  • That these people believed that He would rise from the dead
  • That the people who believed this would have gathered at the tomb

Each of these three points depends upon the previous one(s), and if any one of them is wrong then Clark’s super argument collapses.  In fact, each one is wrong, as we shall see.

Now, in the Gospel books there are ten recorded occurrences of Jesus foretelling His coming resurrection:

  • Matthew 16:13-23 (paralleled in Mark 8:27-31 and Luke 9:18-22)
  • Matthew 17:5-13 (paralleled in Mark 9:7-13)
  • Matthew 17:22-23 (paralleled in Mark 9:30-32 and Luke 9:43-45)
  • Matthew 20:17-19 (paralleled in Mark 10:32-34 and Luke 18:31-34)
  • Matthew 26:31-33 (paralleled in Mark 14:27-28)

 

  • John 2:18-22
  • John 10:17-21
  • Matthew 12:38-40
  • Matthew 16:1-4
  • Luke 11:29-30

In the case of the first five on the list, Jesus was speaking privately to His apostles, and in the latter five He was speaking to outsiders.  We will begin by examining the first five.

  • Matthew 16:13-23/Mark 8:27-31/Luke 9:18-22 recounts the incident of Jesus in the region of Caesarea Philippi asking His apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”  After being with them and teaching them and showing them signs for about two years, He calls them to make a decision as to who He is.  Peter rightly answers “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” an answer of which Jesus approves.  Then the text continues, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).  It is obvious, then, that it was not until the apostles came to realize that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, that He told them that He would rise from the dead.  And it was now revealed to them privately.  And it is evident from Peter’s reaction (“Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’”) that he did not understand what Jesus was getting at.

  • Matthew 17:5-13/Mark 9:7-13 recount Jesus’ instructions to Peter, James, and John (the only ones who’d been present) not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration they had just witnessed until after Jesus had risen from the dead.  The apostles still did not grasp what it is that Jesus is talking about: “So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.” (Mark 9:10)

  • In Matthew 17:22-23/Mark 9:30-32/Luke 9:43-45, Jesus foretells His impending death and resurrection again, and again it is only to His apostles, and again “they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” (Mark 9:32)

  • Matthew 20:17-19/Mark 10:32-34/Luke 18:31-34 is the fourth recorded incident in which Jesus foretells His death and resurrection.  Again it is only to His apostles, and again “they understood none of these things.” (Luke 18:34)

  • In Matthew 26:31-33/Mark 14:27-28, Jesus foretells His resurrection one more time and specifies that afterwards He will go before them into Galilee.  Again, only His apostles are present.

Before we say more about this, we shall examine the five recorded incidents at which Jesus foretold His impending death and resurrection to outsiders, as it is illuminating.  The first and indeed earliest such recorded prediction during Jesus’ earthly ministry is in John 2:13-22:

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will eat Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (Bolding added.)

This first prediction to outsiders was certainly cryptic.  Not even His disciples understood it as a prediction of Jesus’ bodily resurrection until after that event had taken place.  His challengers certainly did not understand it, either; they thought He was speaking of the actual temple building, as is evidenced both by the charges made at His trial:

Two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” (Matthew 26:60b-61)

and by the mocking at His crucifixion:

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29-30).

In fact, this misunderstanding continued into the apostolic age, as is seen at the trial of Stephen:

They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14).

On three other recorded occasions (Matthew 12:38-40; Matthew 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-30), Jesus foretold His impending death and resurrection obliquely, describing it as “the sign of Jonah.”  The most detailed description He gave is in Matthew 12:38-40:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

While this was spoken to the general public, it is an open question as to how many of them understood the “the sign of Jonah” to be a prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection, at least prior to the event itself.

In John 10:17-18, Jesus openly foretold His death and resurrection, but in a nonspecific way, and certainly without the detail that He would rise within three days:

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”[10]

So what have we seen from all this?  We have seen that Jesus certainly foretold His death and resurrection clearly to His apostles though not until they had come to recognize Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  He also foretold these events to outsiders, but in most cases He did so in cryptic fashion, in a way that would have been easy to miss.  In fact, the only indication that any outsiders knew that He had foretold His resurrection is Matthew 27:62-63:

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.'”

Therefore, while Jesus’ prediction of His resurrection was known at least to His enemies, the chief priests and Pharisees (and even to them in occurred only as an afterthought), it seems that it was not widely known among the general public.  David Clark’s “thought experiment” in which “Jesus has spoken openly about what awaits him.  He is predicting his betrayal, his death, and his resurrection – the third day after his death” to the general public simply does not comport with the actual facts of the matter.

We recall that David K. Clark’s case depended on the factuality of three points, the first of which was that many people knew about Jesus’ promised resurrection on the third day.  This first point has failed.

Now we ask why Jesus did not speak openly and clearly to the general public about His coming crucifixion and resurrection.  The answer is obvious, and it will vitiate the second point necessary for Clark’s case: He did not speak openly and clearly to the general public about these matters because no one would believe it.  In fact, it is manifestly obvious is that no one expected Jesus to rise from the dead.  Certainly his enemies did not expect it:

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)

They were not expecting Jesus to rise; their only concern was that His disciples might steal the body in order to claim falsely that He had risen.

Now, while it may be expected that Jesus’ enemies did not believe He would rise, it is far more noteworthy that not even His closest friends and apostles believed that Jesus would rise from the dead.  We have already seen that the apostles could not apprehend what Jesus was saying when He foretold His resurrection.  And this is not surprising; it is exceedingly difficult to believe such a thing, as one fact we know (or believe we know) is that people do not come back from the dead.  Follow:

When Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb on the morning of the third day, they were not going to see Him rise; they were going to anoint His dead body (“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.” Mark 16:1).  They were not expecting a resurrection, nor did they believe one had taken place until Jesus actually appeared before them.

These women then reported it to the apostles, but, despite this eyewitness testimony, His own apostles still did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead:

Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. (Mark 16:9-11)[11]

Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.  And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:9-11)

Then others saw the risen Jesus and reported it to the apostles, yet they still did not believe that He had risen:

After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:12-13)

Even when He appeared to ten of the apostles, their first reaction was to think they were seeing a spirit rather than that He had risen:

Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. (Luke 24:36-37)

Even as He set about convincing them, at first “they still did not believe for joy” (Luke 24:41).

The upshot of all this is clear.  The presumed certainty that dead people do not return to life was such that even Jesus’ own disciples did not believe that He would rise despite the fact that He had clearly and repeatedly foretold that He would.  No wonder that when He appeared personally to them

“He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14b)

This also explains why Jesus did not openly foretell His death and resurrection to the general public.  What would be the point?  If even those who knew Him best did not believe that He would rise from the dead, then how much less would outsiders.  There were already those who thought He had gone mad (Mark 3:21) or was demon-possessed (John 7:20, 8:52) or both (John 10:20).  There was nothing to be gained by adding fuel to the fire by foretelling something that would not be believed anyway.  It was far better to foretell it in a cryptic way, so that after the fact they would realize that He had indeed foretold it (John 2:22).

And so Clark’s question is answered.  “Where were the Pharisees, the Romans, and all of those whose futures were thought to be at stake in the outcome?”  They were going about their regular business.  Contra Clark, “the prospect of [the resurrection]” did not “raise the excitement level off the charts” because no one believed it would happen.  Thus, the second point necessary to Clark’s case, viz.That these people believed that He would rise from the dead” has failed.

Not much needs to be said about Clark’s third necessary condition: “That the people who believed this would have gathered at the tomb.”  We have already seen that there were no such people as far as we can tell.  But even if there had been a few who did, and they did gather at the tomb, what would they have encountered?  They would have encountered a guard of crack Roman troops, trained killers tasked with ensuring that no one stole the body of Jesus.  Had these troops seen a group of people hanging around the tomb, just waiting, they surely would have run them off on the chance that they were there to steal the body.  So Clark’s third necessary condition also fails.

 Let us sum the matter up.  We have seen that Clark’s super new argument against the resurrection viz. that “The very notion of the heralded Resurrection Day without the requisite audience is silly!” required that the following three points be true:

  • That many people knew about Jesus’ promised resurrection on the third day
  • That these people believed that He would rise from the dead
  • That the people who believed this would have gathered at the tomb

As we said, if any one of them is wrong then Clark’s super argument collapses and, as we have shown every one of them is wrong.  Clark’s argument collapses – utterly – and his confident claims that “it is not difficult to establish – utilizing nothing more than the Gospels themselves – that Jesus was not resurrected” and that any “final salvo … from those who would seek to restore the Gospel accounts of a literal resurrection as if straight from the annals of history … cannot succeed … no success will be forthcoming from appeals to history” can only be seen as, in the words of Sherlock Holmes, “bleat” and “ineffable twaddle.”

Part 2: “God Meant It for Good”

While David K. Clark’s argument against the resurrection of Jesus has proven to be completely vacuous, the examination of it has brought attention to facts that show how truly strong the case is that the resurrection of Jesus was a real historical event.  Let us see how this has come to pass.

Clark, thinking he has disproved the resurrection, subsequently spins from whole cloth a fantasy in which Jesus’ followers invent the resurrection after His death.[12]  And why exactly did they do this?  According to Clark,

otherwise, Jesus was simply dead.  Dead!  Hence, Jesus was neither a messiah nor was he the vehicle of anyone’s future salvation.  For some, this was not an option.  The significance of Jesus had to salvaged – there had to be a way.

Take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking lunacy of Clark’s statement, for it is truly a masterpiece of witlessness.   If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then indeed He was “simply dead” and indeed He was “neither a messiah nor was he the vehicle of anyone’s future salvation” – and His followers knew this!  They knew that if He stayed dead then He was a false messiah, so why would they invent the idea that He rose from the dead?  After all, if they invented the story, then they would themselves know that He was still dead and therefore not “the vehicle of anyone’s future salvation” – including theirsWould they really want to continue following Him and dedicate their lives to trying to persuade people to follow a messiah they knew to be false, and at the cost of opposition, opprobrium, persecution, and death?  The very idea is beyond mere absurdity.

Instead, they would have their answer to the question that John the Baptist had earlier posed to Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:30); the answer would be that Jesus was not the “Coming One,” and they must indeed look for another.  The idea that “for some, this was not an option” and they would invent the resurrection to promote a messianic claimant that they themselves now knew to be false is so ludicrous that only a madman, an atheist, or a liberal scholar could believe it.

To drive the point home, let us remember that Jesus was not the only claimant to the mantle of Jewish messiah.  Two others are mentioned in the Book of Acts:

Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.” (Acts 5:34-37)

It doesn’t require inordinate intelligence to note what happened to the followers of messianic claimants who didn’t rise from the dead.  After Theudas was killed, “all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.”  Why did the followers of Theudas not invent a claim that he had risen from the dead and continue to follow him?  After Judas of Galilee was dead, “all who obeyed him were dispersed.”  Why did this Judas’ followers not claim that he had risen from the dead?  Because dead messiahs who stay dead are false messiahs, and no one will continue to follow them, let alone invent resurrections to justify doing so.

Nor are these the only two case studies.  In 50 Jewish Messiahs,[13] Jerry Rabow documents a total of fifty-one men (and one woman) who have throughout history claimed the mantle of Jewish Messiah, including Simeon Bar Kokhba, Moses of Crete, Abu Isa, and Shabbatai Zevi.  They all died, and not even of one of them did their followers ever claim that he had risen bodily from the dead and had been seen by eyewitnesses.  Not even in one case.  It may be too obvious to need stating, but we will mention nevertheless that these men are all but forgotten except to specialists of Jewish history, and none of them has any followers today.  Jewish messianic claimants who die and stay dead are rightly considered to be false and are neither followed nor preached; that sample of fifty is more than enough to establish this fact.  Therefore, inasmuch as Jesus is both followed and preached today, it is clear that He, alone among the claimants, did rise bodily and was seen by the eyewitnesses, which is why they continued to follow and preach Him even in the face of deadly persecution.

Furthermore, skeptics such as Clark should ask themselves why the followers of Buddha never claimed that their leader/teacher/prophet had risen bodily from the dead and been seen by eyewitnesses, nor did the followers of Muhammad, nor the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, nor the followers of Bah’u’llah, nor the followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, nor the followers of Sun Myung Moon, nor, in fact, the followers of anybody other than Jesus.  It seems that followers of religious leaders do not glibly claim that their leaders rose after his death, regardless of the fact that it would greatly enhance their credibility.  The followers of Jesus, and only the followers of Jesus, made such a claim.

It is not difficult to see the reason that none of the others did this.  This is, in fact, the second reason why no one would invent a claim of a bodily resurrection, which we illustrate by this incident in Jesus’ career:

And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12, bolding added.)

In this case, Jesus forgives a paralytic who shows faith and when the scribes object, He asks, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?”  The answer is obvious: it is very easy to say to the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, because there is no objective test to see whether or not his sins have indeed been forgiven, so that even a charlatan can say such a thing without being exposed.  On the other hand, if one says, “Arise, take up your bed and walk,” he immediately makes his claims subject to obvious testing: does the paralytic get up and walk?  A charlatan would immediately be exposed.  Jesus could not prove that the man’s sins had been forgiven, but He could prove His own power through the verifiable demonstration of healing the man’s paralysis.

The key point here is that the claim that a man who has been killed a short time ago has risen from the dead and been seen by many eyewitnesses is a claim of the latter sort, like saying to a paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed and walk.”  It is subject to instant verification.  Either there really are numerous eyewitnesses who testify that they saw the risen Jesus after His death by crucifixion, and they testify to this even at the cost of persecution that may be deadly, or the claim will be exposed as a fraud immediately.  So no one whose leader did not rise from the dead will claim he did, because the fraudulent nature of the claim will be immediately exposed and the movement instantly discredited.  The only ones who would dare to make such a claim are those whose leader actually did rise from the dead, and who have the eyewitnesses to testify to it.  And the only ones who did such a thing throughout history are the followers of Jesus Christ.[14]

Even twenty-two years after the resurrection, Paul gives a list of witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, and states that “the greater part remain to the present” (i.e. they are still alive at the time of Paul’s writing, ca. AD 55), and by so doing is extending an open invitation to his readers to verify the resurrection with the eyewitnesses if they doubt it.  If the eyewitnesses had not actually existed or had not verified Paul’s claims, the persecuted nascent Christian movement would have died at birth.[15]  Yet here it is today.  This is a fact that no bloviation of liberal skepticism can overcome.

Part 3: Summary and Conclusion

We began with an examination of David K. Clark’s super new argument against the resurrection, published in the April/May 2014 issue of Free Inquiry.  We have found the following:

Clark’s argument that the absence of an audience at Jesus’ tomb waiting to see Him rise shows that the resurrection is “an obvious hoax” and that “the very notion of the heralded Resurrection Day without the requisite audience is silly” has been shown to be a non-starter.  There was no audience not because Jesus did not foretell His resurrection but because no one believed it would happen.  Inasmuch as even a cursory examination of the Gospel records makes this fact plain, Clark’s argument can be considered not just wrong but “silly.

Liberal skeptics such as Clark often claim glibly that Jesus’ followers invented the idea of His resurrection long after His death, but this contention, too, falters on the facts and shows that those who make such claims simply have not bothered to think carefully, as the following points show.

As Clark rightly admits, if Jesus stayed dead, then “Jesus was neither a messiah nor was he the vehicle of anyone’s future salvation.”  It is exceedingly difficult to see why Clark cannot connect the dots and see that if Jesus was “neither a messiah nor was he the vehicle of anyone’s future salvation,” then His followers absolutely would not invent a resurrection so that they could preach and promote a man they had previously followed because they’d thought he was the messiah and the vehicle of their future salvation.  That is what they were looking for, and they would certainly know that He was not what they were looking for if they themselves had to invent the resurrection.  It is, therefore, inconceivable that they would invent the resurrection, and all the more so since they suffered deadly persecution for preaching Jesus and His resurrection.  Instead of inventing a resurrection and thereby promoting a fraud, they would renounce Jesus and “look for another” to follow.

While it is not widely known (for obvious reasons), there were more than fifty other claimants to the mantle of Jewish messiah throughout history.  After they died, they ceased to have followers.  In not even one case did one’s followers claim that their messiah had risen from the dead.  For those who believe in evidence-based conclusions, the conclusion here should be clear: if a Jewish messianic claimant dies and does not rise from the dead, his followers abandon him rather than inventing stories that he rose from the dead – because dying and not rising proves that the claimant was a fraud.

While claims of a resurrection from the dead would greatly enhance the prestige and credibility of anyone claiming to bring the true message of God, in the case of no other religion – from Buddhism to Islam to Mormonism – did any followers ever dare to assert that their leader had risen from the dead.  This is not surprising inasmuch as claims of a resurrection that cannot be supported by overwhelming evidence serve only to discredit one’s claims, not enhance them.

We are so certain that the dead do not rise that we find the claim that someone has done so to be exceedingly difficult to believe, and we will not believe it without overwhelming evidence.  This was certainly true in the case of Jesus’ followers, who did not believe that He would rise even though He had repeatedly told them that He would.  It took the post-resurrection appearances to convince them, and even then it was not instantaneous (e.g. Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:41).

Jesus met the burden of proof regarding His resurrection that was required by His followers, “to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).  What He showed them was quite sufficient to convince more than five hundred eyewitnesses that He had risen.

When Jesus’ followers began to preach the risen Jesus in Jerusalem, they were speaking to people who were very familiar with the events of Jesus’ death and who were hearing from eyewitnesses – and thousands became convinced that Jesus had risen.

More than twenty years later, Paul (and presumably other Christian preachers) continued to appeal to the testimony of the eyewitnesses, the majority of whom were still alive and could be cross-examined.  Had these eyewitnesses not verified the fact that they had seen the risen Jesus after He had been crucified, no one would have accepted the Christian message and Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.  Yet here it is today.

In light of the preceding points, the only viable conclusion that is consistent with the evidence is that Jesus did rise from the dead, is the Messiah, and is the “vehicle of … future salvation” to anyone who believes (John 3:16-18, 3:36).  Let us hope that people will not allow metaphysical bias or insolent pride prevent them from acknowledging this truth, that they might be saved.


Endnotes

[1] The fact that this is a spiritual battle in which a reluctance to acknowledge God rules over evidence is clearly seen here.  The men who mocked Jesus days ago, promising to believe in Him if He was able to save Himself, are now confronted by the fact that He did indeed save Himself and proved His claims in the very way they had asked, but rather than admitting they were wrong and turning to Him in faith, they bought and paid for a lie.  Whether or not that lie could fool others, they themselves obviously knew it was a lie, since they bought and paid for it.  Yet they preferred to hold on to the lie rather than the truth.

[2] Such as the “Swoon Theory” viz. that Jesus hadn’t actually died on the cross and later revived inside the tomb.

[3] Such as the “Hot Tomb Theory” viz. that the tomb was so hot that the body of Jesus vapourized and so His disciples thought that He had risen.

[4] See Casey, Derek. “The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the Testimony of God in Our Days” at https://truthinmydays.com/verification-of-contemporary-facts-and-proof-for-the-resurrection/.  See also, inter alia, Habermas, Gary R. and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004.

[5] Clark, David K. “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ.” Free Inquiry 34(3), April/May 2014, pp. 17-23.  All quotations from Clark in my article are from this source.

[6] It is not clear whether Clark considers the assertions made by John Dominic Crossan, which Clark mentions here (viz. that Jesus “was surely routinely burned along with the rotting piles of other corpses that had met the same fate.  No burial; hence, no resurrection.”), to be a valid argument against the resurrection.  Whether he does so or not, Crossan’s assertions are risible.

[7] Matthew and John were eyewitnesses; Mark was recording Peter’s eyewitness testimony; and Luke tells us he had access to information from “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2).  And, yes, the Gospel According to Mark does document post-resurrection appearances of Jesus; see Footnote 9, below.

[8] In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul mentions that the risen Jesus “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” Since “the greater part remain,” more than half of the five hundred were still alive, yielding at the most conservative estimate two hundred and fifty eyewitnesses living at the time Paul wrote this.  There could well have been close to five hundred of them.

[9] It is beyond the scope of this article, but it should be mentioned that, contra the charges of liberal scholars, Mark 16:9-20 is the authentic original ending of that Gospel book, penned by Mark himself.  See Tors, John. “Mark 16:9-20: A Response to CMI” at https://truthinmydays.com/mark-169-20-a-response-to-cmi/ and, inter alia, Pickering, Dr. Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text II (3rd Edition). Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, pp. 159-168.

[10] Some may see Jesus alluding to His resurrection on the third day in Luke 13:31-33, yet a comparison of the timelines in v. 32 and v. 33 shows that the “I shall be finished” cannot be intended as a reference to His resurrection.

[11] See Footnote 9.

[12] Clark did not invent this idea, of course.  It has been a standard liberal trope from the very beginning of the attacks on Christianity (cf. Matthew 28:11-13).

[13] Rabow, Jerry. 50 Jewish Messiahs. Jerusalem and New York: Gefen Publishing House, 2002.

[14] Liberal scholars like to claim that there are “dying and rising gods” in ancient mythology.  This is not true, but even if it were, it is irrelevant to this discussion.  We are talking about people claiming that a man who was known to them (and their initial audiences in Jerusalem), whom they had seen killed a few weeks ago, had risen bodily and appeared to eyewitnesses that they could question.  There is nothing like that in ancient mythology or anywhere else.

[15] Liberal skeptics sometimes claim that in Jesus’ time postal systems were too inefficient and long-distance travel too difficult to allow for such verification.  This is nonsense, not only because the Roman postal system was very efficient and long-distance travel common (witness Paul’s missionary journeys) but also because many of Paul’s converts in every city were Jews (see Acts 18 regarding the converts in Corinth), who were required by their law to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover and other feasts, and many did so (See, e.g., Acts 2:1-12).  So they were certainly in a position to verify or disprove Paul’s claims about the resurrection.

Comments: 2

  1. An additional point in relation to why Jesus did not announce his resurrection to any but the disciples is that he never appeared after his resurrection to any but them. So it is consistent that he only foretold it clearly to them in private.

    • John Tors says:

      Actually, we do not know that Jesus only appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. James, His brother, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Acts 12:17, 15:13), though when last we see him in the Gospel books he is a mocker and an unbeliever (John 7:2-5). It is entirely possible that Jesus appeared to James (and perhaps to all His brothers) after His resurrection, and James became a convert. Of the “more than five hundred brethren” to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:6), any number may have been unbelievers until He appeared to them.

      This is an important point, because skeptics will cavil that Jesus conveniently appeared only to believers, so we must point out that we do not know that that was the case. He may have appeared to many unbelievers who became believers as a result, and He may have appeared to some unbelievers who remained unbelievers.

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