Browsing the internet recently, my attention was drawn to a quotation by P.Z.Myers, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Minnesota-Morris, US, and author of the popular science blog Pharyngula where Myers mixes Darwinist science with unvarnished venom for Christianity.This is what he says about Easter: “ …… the day Christians everywhere set aside to celebrate [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Easter: Looking back at history to resurrect the truth


Browsing the internet recently, my attention was drawn to a quotation by P.Z.Myers, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Minnesota-Morris, US, and author of the popular science blog Pharyngula where Myers mixes Darwinist science with unvarnished venom for Christianity.This is what he says about Easter: “ …… the day Christians everywhere set aside to celebrate the day they were hoaxed by a gang of Middle Eastern charlatans into believing a local mystic rose from the dead”. Going by the injunction of St. Peter, (1 Peter 3:15), about giving answers to questions (without returning the same venom); I think some reply is warranted.

The historical validity of Jesus Christ and the New Testament –

The writings of the following are historical sources outside the Bible which mention Jesus – Flavius Josephus (AD 37-101), Cornelius Tacitus (AD 55-120), Pliny the Younger (AD 61-113), Suetonius (AD 125), Lucian of Samosata (2nd Cent. AD). They were not Christians. They all mention Jesus as a historical figure.

The entire New Testament was written before the end of the 1st century – (Redating the New Testament, John A.T. Robinson). When there is a long interval between the occurrence of events and their recording, distortion could easily occur. This cannot be said of the Christian gospels.
Was Jesus only a “local mystic”?

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was God Himself. He was no ordinary mortal. He led a sinless life. He was “God manifest in the flesh”, perfect God and perfect man. It is indeed the profoundest of mysteries that He died for us and our salvation. It is only to be expected that a supernatural person should enter and leave the world in a supernatural way. His birth was natural, but His conception was supernatural. His death was natural, but His resurrection was supernatural.

The resurrection as depicted at the Sistine Chapel in Rome

The change that came over the disciples after the resurrection is the most convincing of the circumstantial evidence for it. Why did these people change? The only explanation is the truth of the resurrection, which is evidence for His divinity. They were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive.

Without the resurrection, Christianity would never have taken root. The odds against it at its very beginning were too great. The first seed of the Church was planted in the city of Jerusalem itself, where of all places it would have been ridiculous to preach about a Risen Christ unless both the apostles and their hearers knew about the empty tomb. If there was anything fraudulent, they would not have dared to talk about the resurrection in that city.

Were the disciples “charlatans”? –

They were not charlatans. Above all, it should be remembered that almost all the disciples were martyred for their faith and belief in the resurrection. They had nothing to gain. People may die for what they believe in, even a passionately held illusion, but surely not to maintain what they know is deliberate falsehood and flagrant deception.

Prof. Simon Greenleaf, a Jewish lawyer, one of the greatest authorities on legal evidence and founder of the Harvard Law School, was a sceptic who set out to disprove the divinity of Christ. He ended up becoming a Christian. In his book ‘The Testimony of the Evangelists’- 1847 (Reprint 1995) he says: “Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, the early Christians received contempt, opposition………and cruel deaths. Yet, this faith they zealously did propagate, and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors continued their work with increased vigour and resolution”. He concludes – “It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known the fact as certainly as they knew any other fact.”

Was the Resurrection a “hoax”?

The Empty Tomb – We know that Jesus was buried in a tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimethea, who had obtained permission from Pontius Pilate to bury the body. This is of significance, as Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy, a historical figure, not the sort of person the Gospel writers could have invented. This is a fact that anyone living at that time could have checked.

The fact that the empty tomb was first reported by women is also significant. In the then Jewish society, women had no place at all; it was exclusively patriarchal. Their evidence was not even valid in a court of law. The Gospel writers would never have put them as first witnesses, if it were not authentic.

(b). The Missing Body – The point at issue is therefore, not whether the tomb was empty, but how it became empty. There are three main possible explanations.

i. Fraud – that is, someone stole the body. It could not have been His enemies because they had no motive. They sealed the tomb and set up a guard. Their interests lay in keeping it there. Even if they did, once the story of the resurrection got around, they would surely have produced the body to disprove it. The disciples could not have stolen the body, though it is plausible, because of the security surrounding the tomb. Moreover, immediately after the crucifixion, the disciples were thoroughly demoralized and were in hiding.

ii. Swoon – According to this theory, Jesus did not die on the cross, but only swooned or fainted from exhaustion. He was then taken for dead and placed in the tomb, but later recovered; it was resuscitation not resurrection. The theory is ingenious but does not stand up to examination. Even the most physically fit of men would not have survived such an ordeal. Even if He did escape, a person in such a state, appearing before the already demoralized disciples, would not have inspired in them the enthusiasm and reverence with which they proclaimed the Risen Jesus as the conqueror over death and the grave.

The swoon theory moreover, leaves us with a fraudulent Jesus. No intelligent critic would suggest this. Among all the insinuations against Christianity that have come down from antiquity, there is no hint of this theory from the earliest of its opponents. It surfaced in the 2nd century when the theory was first put forward by Celsus.

iii. Miracle – We are left with the last possibility, which we can accept if we are not biased. If we accept the possibility of God, then the possibility of a miracle has to be accepted. Once God’s existence is accepted as a possibility, miracles cannot be dismissed out of hand; they only become matters for investigation. The only way we can know whether an event can occur is to see whether in fact it has occurred. The problem of “miracles,” then, must be solved in the realm of historical investigation, not in the realm of philosophical speculation.

The Direct Evidence – In any court of law, evidence of eyewitnesses is regarded as the best evidence. There are twelve such appearances mentioned in the New Testament. The accounts are independent of each other. Although there are minor points of disagreement, the core of the evidence is the same.

Lord Darling, a former Lord Chief Justice of England, speaking in reference to the resurrection, once said – “On that greatest point we are not asked merely to have faith. In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world can fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”- (Michael Green, Man Alive, 1969)

Several intellectuals, who started as sceptics, set out to disprove the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ; they later wrote books in support of the Resurrection. Some are – Professor Simon Greenleaf, (The Testimony of the Evangelists, 1847), Frank Morrison (Who Moved the Stone, 1930), Val Grieve (Your Verdict, 1988), C.S.Lewis – (Mere Christianity, 1952), Malcolm Muggeridge – (Jesus, the Man who Lives). Many more have done likewise.

I will close with a quotation from Charles (“Chuck”) Colson. Former “hatchet man” of the Nixon administration of the 1970s; involved in the Watergate scandal, he was imprisoned, and became a committed Christian while in prison. He pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time.

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

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