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A DEFENSE OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
Ryan J. Haase
NO ONE QUESTIONS THE FACT OF CRUCIFIXION
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ ministered on the face of this earth, in the land of Israel. He ministered for three years, at the end of which, at the age of 33, he was put to death on the cross. Crucifixion, the death of a criminal, and one of the worst and most humiliating ways (if not the worst) known to put a person to death.
Up to this point in the life of Christ, few are willing to bring up any objections. Granted, there are issues involving who Christ was, but most people accept that there was a man named Jesus who walked the earth two thousand years ago, and who was, at the very least, a great moral teacher. Few people would bring up any objections to the fact that he was crucified along with two criminals. However, according to the biblical account, what happened three days after the crucifixion is what is hard to believe for most people.
Part of this could come from the fact that we don't hear of people being raised from the dead. In fact, naturally, it is impossible. As we live in an increasingly naturalistic society, people search for more and more ways to discredit the resurrection as a non-historical event.
QUESTIONING THE FACT OF RESURRECTION
Interestingly enough, the resurrection of Christ is at the core of Christian belief (1 Cor. 15:14), which is why it should be of no surprise that this is one of the areas the devil has chosen to attack the hardest. He wants to remove the belief in the resurrection because he wants to destroy the essence of the Christian faith. As John Stott said, "Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed." The devil knows this, and I would say that the skeptics do to, which is why they try so hard not to believe it. They know that if they can discredit Christ's resurrection, they will discredit the Christian faith itself.
ATTEMPTS TO DISCREDIT THE RESURRECTION
Several attempts have been made to discredit the resurrection, and after much examination five "theories" were formulated. All five need equal consideration, because when taken from a natural standpoint, all five are possible.
First, and this is what we believe, Christ actually died and rose from the dead. Second, we have what is known as the swoon theory, which holds that Christ didn't actually die, but swooned or passed out, and was then revived when they realized he wasn't dead. The other three involve the disciples. Either the disciples were hallucinating and therefore, were greatly deceived, or they were actually intentionally deceiving people into believing what didn't really happen in a form of conspiracy, "the most famous and successful lie in history" (Kreeft), or they created a myth and didn't actually mean it literally, Since all of these are possible, they all need to be looked at with care.
REFUTATION OF THESE THEORIES
I will take some time in the following pages to refute these different theories: the swoon theory, the hallucination theory, the conspiracy theory, and the myth theory. It goes without saying that these theories were formulated by people who didn't want to believe what the Bible says, and thus don't hold much ground in a logical debate based on evidence.
Billy Graham says that "there is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived or that Alexander the Great died at age 33.""Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it"(Westcott: 4-6).
What I am going to show through this study is that Jesus actually did rise from the dead and that this historical fact can be proven with more than enough evidence needed to stand up in a court of law. It is the essence of Christianity, and it is no mistake God gave us so much evidence for it. "He alone, of all men who ever lived, conquered death itself. By all rules of evidence, His bodily resurrection from the grave can be adjudged the best-proved fact of all history." (Morris: 28)
THE FIRST THEORY
The first theory that I would like to refute is the Swoon theory. This is the theory that states that Jesus didn't actually die but only swooned, fooling everybody else into thinking he was dead. Having only swooned, he didn't resurrect from the dead, but only regained consciousness after three days. Consider this description of the crucifixion process as described by Dr. Truman Davis:
"The left foot is now pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain -- the nails in the writs are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
"At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath.
"Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. Hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins...A terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissue; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.
"The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine which is the staple drink of the Roman legionaries, is lifted to His lips. He apparently doesn't take any of the liquid. The body of Jesus is now in extremes, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brings out His sixth words, possibly little more than a tortured whisper, 'It is finished.'
"The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the legs. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; thus the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiers came to Jesus they saw that this was unnecessary. Apparently to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance through the fifth interspace between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. The 34th verse of the 19th chapter of the Gospel according to St. John reports: "And immediately there came out blood and water." That is, there was an escape of water fluid from the sac surrounding the heart, giving postmortem evidence that Our Lord died not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure (a broken heart) due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium." (Davis)
My point in quoting Dr. Davis is that it only takes some knowledge of the practice of crucifixion to realize that there is no way Jesus could have survived. In fact, it was the job of the Roman soldiers who were supervising the crucifixion to make sure the people were actually dead. There was a death penalty for the Roman soldier if they failed at this.
This is why we see recorded that one soldier pierced Jesus with his spear. Jesus' legs weren't broken which indicates that the soldier was pretty sure Jesus was dead, however, he speared him just to make sure. After this event, John reported seeing blood and water ooze from Jesus' heart (John 19:34-35). The Swoon theory can be strongly refuted by the very fact that there is so much evidence that Jesus actually died. In view of Dr. Davis' description of the crucifixion process, it seems impossible that anyone could have survived.
Other than this strong evidence against Jesus being simply a "swooning corpse", there are other things that point against it. First of all, when Jesus was taken off the cross, his body was completely wrapped and placed in a tomb. Assuming there had been a mistake and they had buried Jesus alive, how could he, a "swooning corpse", have actually woken up, unwound himself and then removed the heavy stone, this last one being done without the guards noticing.
A person, who, in Jesus' case, would not be very healthy, could not have done all that without help. Now, assuming all this actually happened, which would already be a long shot, we would still have to deal with another problem. Considering we are now dealing with a living person, who is swooning and would obviously need a doctor, how did he disappear. Where did Jesus go? He most likely would have been seen, and in fact, when he was seen, he was perfectly healthy. The only explanation there is that he actually did die and was raised from the dead.
THE DISCIPLES SIMPLY MADE UP THE STORY? THE CONSPIRACY THEORY
If the concept of Jesus having swooned doesn't pan out, then it must be something else. One theory toys with the idea that the disciples simply made up the whole story of Jesus having resurrected. This is what is known as the Conspiracy theory. There are several reasons to why we could say that the disciples did not make up the story. Historically we read that the disciples underwent incredible amounts of persecution with the early church. In fact, the church was still undergoing intense persecution for quite a while after the apostles were all dead.
"The 'cruncher' in this argument is the historical fact that no one, weak or strong, saint or sinner, Christian or heretic, ever confessed, freely or under pressure, bribe or even torture, that the whole story of the resurrection was a fake, a lie, a deliberate deception. Even when people broke under torture, denied Christ and worshipped Caesar, they never let that cat out of the bag, never revealed that the resurrection was their conspiracy. For that cat was never in that bag. No Christians believed the resurrection was a conspiracy; if they had, they wouldn't have become Christians." (Kreeft)
Now assuming that the disciples had indeed survived the pressure and not "let the cat out of the bag", the disciples would still have had to sit down and come up with the most incredible fictitious story in the history of the world, make it believable, and use it to transform the world.
However, this theory doesn't match up with what we know about the disciples' character based on what we know of them. From what we read about in the book of Acts, we see a group of disciples who acted and preached as if they really believed the resurrection. They lived out what they preached and this is proof in itself. "Their sincerity is proved by their words and deeds. They preached a resurrected Christ and they lived a resurrected Christ. They willingly died for their 'conspiracy.' Nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom" (Kreeft).
The final thing that I would like to point out that speaks against the conspiracy theory is the single fact that if it had been a lie, the Jews would have readily produced the body of Jesus in order to show their lie. The fact that no body was ever produced to prove that the resurrection was false proves in itself that the story must have been true! "In conclusion, if the resurrection was a concocted, conspired lie, it violates all known historical and psychological laws of lying. It is, then, as unscientific, as unrepeatable, unique and untestable as the resurrection itself. But unlike the resurrection, it is also contradicted by things we do know" (Kreeft).
THE HALLUCINATION THEORY
Now let's talk a little about the Hallucination theory. My first question would be to ask what a hallucination would be. A hallucination is when you see something that really doesn't exist, and often it is induced by something else such as a drug. Also, hallucinations are usually private, fast, subjective, and most of the times only happen once. Hallucinations also come from that which we already know, that is, they are made up of bits and pieces of information that are already within us.
Now allow me to analyze the "hallucination" of the resurrection. It happened to hundreds of people at once, it happened over and over again, it lasted an extremely long time (40 days), it was unexpected (must not have come from "within"), and finally, this particular hallucination ate food at least twice from what we have recorded. In other words, either this was one really weird hallucination or else it wasn't really a hallucination. And then there is the body factor. Like in the Conspiracy theory, why did the Jews simply not produce Jesus' body in order to quiet the rumors once and for all?
THE MYTH THEORY
The final theory I would like to look at is the Myth theory. If all other theories fail, how can one refute the assumption that possibly the disciples actually sat down and came up with a cool story about Jesus? There are a few glitches in this assumption, and the main one is made by linguists who study the ancient literature. The style that the gospels were written in is far different from the language style of myths of that time.
The language of the gospels indicates that they were not intended as stories or myths. When the gospel of Christ is compared to other myths of the time, there is absolutely no way to say that the gospel was a myth. The next big problem with the myth theory is the very short amount of time between the life of Christ and the time the gospels were written (around 20 years).
Myths typically take time to develop, and usually firm themselves after all eyewitnesses are gone and nobody is around to discredit it. From what we gather from the gospels, there were still plenty of eyewitnesses around that would remember the true facts in order to discredit the disciples' attempts at creating a myth.
Usually it takes several generations in order for a myth to be established, and this is clearly not the case of the gospels. One more important factor is to realize that the gospels were actually written by eyewitnesses, and this should be more than enough to discredit claims about the writing of a myth. There are other reasons to discredit the possibility of the resurrection being a myth, and I don't have room to go through all of the reasons, but the ones I listed are the most common ones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is that, as I have shown, there is no validity for any of the four reasons presented here for the resurrection of Christ. Since all five are of equal possibility, then by process of elimination, there is only one that can actually be true.
FAITH, CRUCIFIXION, AND RESURRECTION
Granted, there is still an element of faith in it. We need to believe that what the Bible says is true in order to believe that Christ actually rose from the dead. However, in light of the fact that we can back the Bible up historically in all areas searched so far, there is no reason to believe that we have been deceived on this one account. The proof is overwhelmingly in favor of the Bible, and in favor of the resurrection.
I quoted from Billy Graham earlier, and would like to finish it off with the same reminder: There is far more evidence for Christ's resurrection than for the existence of any of the other great leaders known to us from the ancient world. This is the evidence God has left us, and the proof that we have to back up what is the essential belief to Christianity. As the apostle Paul said in I Cor. 15:14, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (NIV) Christ was raised, and due to that we can enter into the presence of God. God has opened the way for us through Jesus, and he left the proof of this scattered throughout history so we would not doubt that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God the Father!
Kreeft, Peter and Tacelli, Ronald K. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Electronic Edition STEP. Illinois, InterVarsity Press: 1994
Westcott, B.F. Gospel of the Resurrection. London: Macmillon and Co., 1903.
Morris, Henry M. The Bible Has the Answers. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1971.
Davis, Dr. Truman. Facts About the Crucifixion. The Review of the NEWS, April 14, 1976.
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HE IS RISEN! | I DIE DAILY - The Marvelous Working of Death and Life | THE PASSION - A Poem | HOW TO BUILD CHARACTERS IN YOUR STORY - Success of Your Story Depends Upon Your Chrarcters! | THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST | A DEFENSE OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST | THE EPISTLE OF JUDE | WHO GETS BLAMED FOR YOUR SINS? | RELIGION OR JESUS CHRIST? Who is Jesus? Can He help me? Can I trust Him? | POETIC LICENSE AND BIBLE EPISODES - HADASSAH, a Novel | A WINDOW TO YOUR SOUL - THE SOLITARY POET, a book of poems by Stan Schmidt | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
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