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Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? An Important Principle Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence—Or We Can Reject Them As False! Extraordinary claim: a claim that contradicts accepted physical laws or our common sense, everyday experiences of the world.

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Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?

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An Important Principle

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence—Or We Can Reject Them As False!

Extraordinary claim: a claim that contradicts accepted physical laws or our common sense, everyday experiences of the world.

People typically think it is acceptable to “presume” that an extraordinary claim is false until strong evidence is presented in its favor.

extraordinary claims
Extraordinary Claims


Compare These Statements


“I ate a hamburger.”

Not Much

“I ate an ostrich burger.”


“I ate a unicorn burger!”

A Lot!

The stronger the claim, the more evidence needed in support of it.


Jesus Rose From the Dead--

An Extraordinary Claim

Without extraordinary amounts of evidence in its favor, we are justified in rejecting this claim.


Is There Extraordinary Evidence for This Claim?

I Will Argue That There is NOT.

eight standard arguments for the resurrection
Eight Standard Arguments For the Resurrection
  • The Gospels Have Eyewitness Accounts of the Resurrected Jesus
  • 500 Witnesses Saw the Resurrected Jesus
  • Jesus Predicted He Would Be Resurrected
  • Early Attempts to Discredit the Resurrection Failed
  • The Empty Tomb Proves the Resurrection
  • Resurrection Accounts Lack Signs of Myth
  • The Apostles Would Not Have Died for a Lie
  • Nonbiblical Historians Confirm the Gospels
1 the gospels have eyewitness accounts of the resurrected jesus
#1: The Gospels Have Eyewitness Accounts of the Resurrected Jesus?
  • All the New Testament books were originally written in Greek.
  • The authentic letters of Paul are the oldest books of the New Testament.
  • The Gospels came later, probably building on oral traditions.
the anonymity of the new testament
The Anonymity of the New Testament
  • The Oxford Companion to the Bible states of the gospels that "their anonymity is a common characteristic" (pg. 259).
  • In Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth, Burton Mack, Professor of the New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont, writes: "With the exception of seven letters by Paul and the Revelation to an otherwise unknown John, the writings selected for inclusion in the New Testament were not written by those whose names are attached to them.”
the gospels
The Gospels

“Gospel” comes from the Greek for “good news”: evangelion.


Probable Time of Composition

The four canonical Gospels are anonymous. They were named in the 2nd century by Bishop Papias of Hieropolis.


The Process of Naming the Gospels

  • The 4th century Church father Eusebius, in his History of the Church, says that Papias was interested in church history and that Papias got his "notions by misinterpreting the apostolic accounts,” and he "seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books.”
  • Papias assigned the names to the Gospels that we have today.


how were the gospels named
How Were The Gospels Named?
  • Of the Gospel of Mark, the Oxford Companion states: "The ascription of the gospel of Mark goes back at least to Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, who in about 130 CE reported that he had been told that it was written by Mark ‘the interpreter of Peter.’”
  • Who told this to Papias is not known.
  • We cannot know if his source was reliable.
  • Nor do we know if he ever heard otherwise.
  • So, we have no reason to believe Papias was in a position to make a correct determination about Gospel authorship.
was papias accurate
Was Papias Accurate?
  • Eusebius adds "Mark, who had been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter’s.”
  • So by the second century it was already thought that the author of the Gospel of Mark was not an eyewitness of Jesus.
  • The works of Papias were written in his old age sometime between the years 115 and 140 CE.
geographical mistake in mark
Geographical Mistake in Mark
  • Mark 7:31: Then he [Jesus] return from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee.”
  • The Sea of Galilee is to the southeast of Tyre while Sidon is to the north of the city.
  • As David Barr, Professor of Religion at Wright State University remarked: "the itinerary sketched in 7:31 would be a little like going from New York to Washington, D.C. by way of Boston"!
marathon swine
Marathon Swine?
  • Mark 5:1 locates Gerasa next to the lake or Sea of Galilee.
  • In Mark 5:13, Jesus has demons leave a man in Gerasa and enter a herd of pigs which then ran into the sea.
  • However Gerasa is more than fifty kilometers to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee!
  • As a Biblical scholars of Jesus Seminar remarked: “Gerasa is located approximately thirty miles to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee... Matthew relocates the demoniac to Gadara, which is only six miles from the lakeshore. Later scribes tried other remedies to accommodate the pigs.”
geography mistake again
Geography Mistake Again
  • In Mark 10-11, Jesus travels from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethphage and then Bethany.
  • But Bethany is further away from Jerusalem than Bethphage.
  • Theologian D.E. Nineham, comments: “The geographical details make an impression of awkwardness, especially as Bethphage and Bethany are given in reverse order to that in which travelers from Jericho would reach them…and we must therefore assume that St Mark did not know the relative positions of the two villages on the Jericho road…”
  • Matthew 21 changes the geography to correct it.
a mistake in customs
A Mistake in Customs
  • Mark 10:11-12 has Jesus say:
    • He [Jesus] answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
  • But according to Jewish Law a woman had no right to divorce her husband.
  • These obvious mistakes could not have been made by a Palestinian Jew who was a traveling companion of Peter.
the gospel of luke
The Gospel of Luke

Of Luke, The Oxford Companion to the Bible states: “…the third gospel is anonymous, as are the other gospels.”

The Gospel of Matthew

"It is commonly held that Matthew was written about 85 or 90 C.E. by an unknown Christian who was at home in a church located in Antioch of Syria...” (Ibid.)

the literary dependence
The Literary Dependence
  • Mark is the basis for two other gospels.
  • The Gospels of Luke and Matthew contain the verses from Mark almost word-for-word.
  • This shows that the authors of Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source.
matthew and luke apostles
“Matthew” and “Luke,” Apostles?
  • Since it is clear that Mark was not written by an apostle, and since it is unlikely that an apostle would base his work on the anonymous writing of someone who was not himself a disciple, it is unlikely that the disciples Matthew or Luke authored the Gospels that bear their names.
  • In addition, there are geographical and historical errors in Luke and historical errors in Matthew.
the q gospel
The “Q” Gospel
  • Because there are some verses found in Luke and Matthew that are NOT in Mark, many scholars believe that there was a set of Jesus’ sayings used to supplement the material in Mark.
  • They call this the “Q” Gospel, “Q” for the German word for “source”: Quelle.

Why would apostles need to copy the writings of someone else?

the gospel of john
The Gospel of John
  • The Gospel of John seems to have been written in at least 3 stages from 100-150 CE.
  • Signs of editing and multiple authorship:
    • There are marked differences in style, such as between chapters 1 and 21.
    • It is often repetitious. See 6:35-50 and 50-58 and chapters 14 & 16.
    • There are notorious sequential breaks in the narrative, as in 3:22 and 2:23, the end of chapter 5 and the start of chapter 6, and chapters 20 and 21.
    • The gospel has conflicting theological views such as that of Jesus’ divinity.
the gospel of john21
The Gospel of John

In The Encyclopedia Britannica, Gunther Bornkamm, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies at the Rupert Charles University of Heidelberg wrote regarding the gospel of John: "The tradition in John shows that the gospel has reached an advanced theological state. Because a theological conception has been incorporated in the account to such an extent, this Gospel cannot be directly used as a historical source. It is also the latest of the Gospels, written about AD 100" (Ibid.)

late stories
Late Stories
  • From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus, by Paula Fredriksen: "We must remember that forty to seventy years stand between the public career and death of Jesus of Nazareth and the probable dates of the composition of the gospels.”
not eyewitness accounts
Not Eyewitness Accounts
  • Given the anonymity of the Gospels, one cannot assign to them any eyewitness status or authority.
  • They cannot serve as extraordinary evidence.

Anonymous testimony

is not strong evidence.

a false impression
A False Impression
  • In Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth, Burton Mack writes: "Over the course of the second and third centuries, centrist Christians were able to create the impression of a singular, monolinear history of the Christian church. They did so by carefully selecting, collecting, and arranging anonymous and pseudonymous writings assigned to figures at the beginning of the Christian time...”
burton mack cont d
Burton Mack Cont’d:
  • “This means that the impression modern readers have of the New Testament as a charter document for Christianity, a kind of constitution written in concert by a college or congress of apostles, is thoroughly understandable. That is exactly what the centrist Christians of the fourth century intended…It is neither an authentic account of Christian beginnings nor an accurate rehearsal of the history of the empire church. Historians of religions would call it myth."
How much reliability can be possessed by books:
  • Written by anonymously,
  • Written by people who were not present at the events they describe,
  • Written from oral traditions started anonymously,
  • Written from oral traditions passed on by unknown persons,
  • Rewritten time and time again,
  • Copied from manuscripts which cannot be checked against any originals.
2 500 witnesses saw the resurrected jesus
#2: 500 Witnesses Saw the Resurrected Jesus?
  • In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul states:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ…appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…”

what 500
What 500?
  • Who are these 500? What are their names?
  • How did they know it was Jesus they saw? Did they know?
  • Where did this happen?
  • Why is this not mentioned in any of the Gospels?
  • Paul says he wasn’t there. Who told Paul? How do we know his source is reliable?

Anonymous testimony

is not strong evidence.

3 jesus predicted he would be resurrected
#3: Jesus Predicted He Would Be Resurrected?
  • Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
  • Mark 8:31: “31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
  • And many other Gospel verses.
but why believe these accounts
But Why Believe These Accounts?
  • The Gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus. It would be easy to have him “say” various things that he never said.
  • More convincing would have been prophecies written long before the alleged resurrection.
  • How do we know Jesus really said these things if they are anonymous stories written much later?

Anonymous testimony

is not strong evidence.

4 early attempts to discredit the resurrection failed
#4: Early Attempts to Discredit the Resurrection Failed?
  • Matthew 27 states that guards were posted at the tomb of Jesus so the disciples could not steal Jesus’ body.
  • When Jesus was gone anyway, the “chief priests” bribed the guards to say they fell asleep and that Jesus’ disciples stole the body while they slept.
  • “So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Mt. 28:15)
no evidence of such attempts
No Evidence of Such Attempts
  • There are no Jewish sources of that time suggesting that the Jews conspired to discredit the resurrection story.
  • Also, in Matthew’s own account, no guards were posted until the second day after Jesus’ burial. This is plenty of time to steal a body.
  • It makes no sense that guards would report that they know who stole the body while they were asleep.
  • And what was the punishment for sleeping on guard duty..?
5 the empty tomb proves the resurrection
#5: The Empty Tomb Proves the Resurrection?
  • What tomb?
  • Current alleged tombs of Jesus are later inventions to attract the faithful.
  • The earliest writer of Jesus’ resurrection—Paul—does not mention any empty tomb.
  • We have only the Gospels as testimony.

Anonymous testimony

is not strong evidence.

6 resurrection accounts lack signs of myth
#6: Resurrection Accounts Lack Signs of Myth?

Christian apologists often argue that Jesus’ resurrection could not be a myth because:

  • It appears too soon after Jesus’ death to have been fiction. Eyewitnesses would have corrected mythical accounts.
  • Women were not considered credible. No one would create a story with women as witnesses, as we find in the resurrection story.
  • The resurrection story has realistic detail.
too early to be myth
Too Early to Be Myth?
  • Legends develop over time.
    • Paul never mentions an empty tomb. That seems to be a later invention.
    • In the Gospels, the people at the empty tomb show signs of legendary development, from one man to two, to angels, etc.
  • Eyewitnesses would have corrected mythical accounts? There are false reports today that are not corrected by living eyewitnesses.
women as witnesses it worked
Women as Witnesses? It Worked.
  • Who would create a story with women as witnesses? No one would believe women?
  • The fact that people DID believe the resurrection accounts shows that people WERE willing to believe a story that had women as eyewitnesses.
  • The notion that no one would believe a story with female witnesses is clearly false.
too real to be myth
Too Real to Be Myth?
  • In John 21, Jesus has his disciples throw nets in a certain place, and they catch 153 fish. A similar fish story is told of Pythagoras hundreds of years earlier, and 153 is a Pythagorean triangle number.
  • The disciples discovering Jesus’ clothes in the tomb is similar to scene from Chariton’s story Chaireas and Callirhoe.
  • These and many other literary parallels and motifs undermine the sense of historical accuracy.
fictional character
Fictional Character
  • The supposed tomb belonged to “Joseph of Arimathea.” No one has been able to identify such a place.
  • This Joseph is on Jesus’ side, and is said to be on the Council (Mk. 15:43), yet why is there no prior mention of this important follower of Jesus? And no later mention?
  • Many scholars conclude that he is a literary device who exists just to get Jesus in a tomb.
myths often grow over time
Myths Often Grow Over Time
  • The last 12 verses of the gospel of Mark are known to have been added much later than the writing of the rest of the gospel of Mark. These verses are absent in early copies of this gospel.
  • These later verses contain the only post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Mark. So it is interesting that the earliest supposed biography of Jesus’ life contains no report of any eyewitnesses who saw a resurrected Jesus.
  • The Oxford Companion to the Bible agrees: "Mark, generally regarded as the earliest gospel, originally contained no appearance stories.”
the gospels are contradictory
The Gospels Are Contradictory
  • Farrell Till, a former minister who became an atheist by reading the Bible, has become an expert on Bible contradictions.
  • If the resurrection accounts are hopelessly contradictory, this undermines their credibility.
  • Here is Till’s list (in his own words) of the top five new Testament contradictions regarding the Gospel accounts of the resurrection.
where was the stone
Where Was The Stone?
  • Matthew has the women seeing an angel descend and roll away the stone (28:2), but Mark, Luke, and John had the women (or Mary) finding the stone already rolled away when they (she) arrived (Mk. 16:4; Lk. 24:2; Jn. 20:1).
oh joy the body is stolen
Oh, Joy! The Body is Stolen!?
  • Mary Magdalene was with the women who heard the angel(s) say that Jesus had risen (Matt. 28:6; Mk. 16:6; Lk. 24:6-10) and apparently understood what was meant, because she and the women ran from the tomb "with great joy" to tell the other disciples (Matt. 28:6), yet according to John when she found the disciples, she said that she thought the body had been stolen (20:2).
  • Why did she run from the tomb "with great joy" if she thought that Jesus's body had been stolen?
darkest after the dawn
Darkest After the Dawn?
  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the women going to the tomb at some point in time that is variously described as when it "began to dawn" (Matt. 28:1), "when the sun was risen" (Mk. 16:2), or "at early dawn" (Lk. 24:1), but John has Mary M arriving at the tomb "while it was yet dark" (20:1).
  • I can't see how it could be "yet dark" during any of the stages of daylight that Matthew, Mark, and Luke described.
not too spicy
Not Too Spicy
  • Luke 23:54-55 states that "the women," later identified as Mary M, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James (24:10), followed Joseph of Arimathea and saw where and "how the body was laid" and then returned home, "prepared spices and ointments," and then rested on the sabbath "according to the commandment."
  • So according to Luke, the women prepared spices and ointments BEFORE the sabbath, yet Mark says that "when the sabbath was past," the women bought spices "that they might come and anoint him" (16:1).
  • …If they followed Joseph and saw how the body was laid, they had seen Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body with "about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes“ (Jn. 19:38-39). Did they think 100 pounds weren't be enough?
and thomas makes eleven
And Thomas Makes Eleven
  • Luke said that Jesus appeared to "the eleven" after he vanished from the presence of the two disciples in Emmaus (24:33-43). …This appearance happened on the night Jesus was resurrected, during which he urged the disciples to examine his wounds (v:39) and then ate a meal with the disciples (v:42), so it has to be the same meeting that John said Jesus made to the apostles on "the evening of that day," (20:19), during which Jesus showed the disciples his wounds (v:20).
  • The contradiction lies in the fact that Luke said that this appearance was made to the eleven, whereas John said that Thomas wasn't there when Jesus appeared to the apostles on that night (v:24). If Thomas wasn't there, then Jesus couldn't have appeared to "the eleven."
the easter challenge 1 000 reward
The Easter Challenge: $1,000 REWARD!
  • Tell us exactly what happened on the first Easter and win $1,000! Read:
    • Matthew 28
    • Mark 16
    • Luke 24
    • John 20 & 21
    • Acts 1:3-12
    • 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
  • Then, without omitting a single detail from these accounts, write one consistent narrativewith scriptural citationsof the events from the Resurrection to the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
  • If you can do this, you can win $1,000.

Send your entry to the Fayetteville Freethinkers.

7 the apostles would not have died for a lie
#7: The Apostles Would Not Have Died for a Lie?
  • Where is the evidence they died for a lie?
  • No reliable extrabiblical evidence shows that they were martyred.
  • In fact, there is an abundance of stories of the same apostle dying in numerous places, often with magical elements added to the story.
  • The apostles were each martyred too many times for the stories to be credible.
die for falsehoods
Die For Falsehoods?
  • People die for false ideologies and false beliefs in general on a regular basis.
  • Followers of Rev. Jim Jones and David Koresh thought that these men were God incarnate, and they died for that belief. Does their martyrdom prove them correct?
8 nonbiblical historians confirm the gospels
#8: Nonbiblical Historians Confirm the Gospels
  • Apologists often claim that historians apart from the Gospels confirm New Testament claims. Thus one should believe the New Testament, including the resurrection.
  • A typical list of such historians includes:
    • Tacitus, Lucian, Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Tertullian, Thallus, Phlegon, and Justin Martyr.
no contemporary nonbiblical sources confirm claims about jesus
No Contemporary, Nonbiblical Sources Confirm Claims About Jesus
  • Tacitus, Lucian, Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr all lived after the death of Jesus and merely reported what they had heard.
  • Passing on hearsay from anonymous sources is not good evidence.

Anonymous testimony

is not strong evidence.

magic darkness or just an eclipse
Magic Darkness or Just an Eclipse?
  • Thallus and Phlegon are mentioned as writers who attested that an eclipse occurred, and the synoptic Gospels state that darkness “came over the whole land” when Jesus died. But their writings no longer exist. We only have fragments quoted by others.
  • And there is no way to determine if the darkness they spoke of happened on the day Jesus died or if they were just eclipses, as they reported. We don’t know what day Jesus died.
the slaughter of the innocents
The Slaughter of the Innocents
  • Matthew 2:16 says Herod, king of Judea, ordered killed all the male children in the region of Bethlehem that were two years old or younger.
  • Ancient historians, both those who later chronicled Herod’s abuses of power and those who lived in Judea when this was supposed to have occurred, say nothing of such a massacre, and they would certainly have called attention to such an event. This incident is not even mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament.
  • Scholars agree that such an event did not happen. Gospel writers did invent stories.
invasion of the zombie saints
Invasion of the Zombie Saints!
  • Matthew 27:52-53 states that when Jesus died the graves of many of the saints opened, and they rose. Then when Jesus rose the saints went into town and were seen by many people.
  • Historians such as Philo-Judaeus, who lived in Jerusalem at the time, know nothing about Jesus or any other resurrections. Who would have failed to mention a crowd of dead saints come to life?
the formation of the nt canon
The Formation of the NT Canon
  • 367 CE—The Festal letter by Athanasius of Alexandria, at the request of the Pope, has the first list of currently accepted 27 NT books.
  • 405 CE—the Pope accepts the canon and ratifies it.
all atonement theories fail
All Atonement Theories Fail
  • An atonement theory is a proposed theological explanation of the mission of Jesus.
  • The New Testament explains that Jesus preached, was crucified, died, and rose again, but the point of these events is never explained.
  • Why would God kill his son to make sins go away? God had already drowned the world and ordered scapegoats used to get rid of sin.
  • If those things didn’t work, why did God command them? If they worked, why the need for Jesus?

If the story makes no sense,

this undermines its credibility.

Given the Lack of Any Compelling Evidence, We May Justifiably Reject the Claim that Jesus Rose From the Dead

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence—Or We Can Reject Them As False!

"Jesus Rose From the Dead" is an extraordinary claim.

many scholars reject a literal resurrection
Many Scholars Reject a Literal Resurrection
  • “…since the Crucifixion was conducted by Roman soldiers,... Jesus' body was most likely left on the Cross or tossed into a shallow grave to be eaten by scavenger dogs, crows or other wild beasts. As for Jesus' family and followers, depicted in the Bible as conducting a decent burial of the body according to Jewish law, "as far as I can see, they ran," Crossan says. "They lost their nerve, though not their faith." --TIME, 4/10/95, pg. 70, Robert W. Funk and John Dominic Crossan.
scholars say the resurrection is not historical
Scholars Say: The Resurrection is Not Historical

“If the resurrection of Jesus cannot be believed except by assenting to the fantastic descriptions included in the Gospels, then Christianity is doomed. For that view of resurrection is not believable, and if that is all there is, then Christianity, which depends upon the truth and authenticity of Jesus resurrection, also is not believable. If that were the requirement of belief as a Christian, then I would sadly leave my house of faith. WITH ME IN THAT EXODUS FROM THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, HOWEVER, WOULD BE EVERY RANKING NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR IN THE WORLD-- Catholic and Protestant alike…”

--Bishop John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?

a literary form
A Literary Form
  • "The gospel stories about Easter are not historical accounts but religious myths. I say this not at all out of disrespect for Christian faith or for the doctrines that it holds. Rather, I mean to indicate the general literary form of the Easter accounts. They are myths and legends; and it is absurd to take them literally and to create a chronology of preternatural events that supposedly occurred in Jerusalem and Galilee during the weeks after Jesus had died."
  • --Thomas Sheehan of the Religious Studies Department at Stanford. “The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity.”
the standard arguments for the resurrection are inconclusive
The Standard Arguments For the Resurrection Are Inconclusive
  • The Gospels Have Eyewitness Accounts of the Resurrected Jesus
  • 500 Witnesses Saw the Resurrected Jesus
  • Jesus Predicted He Would Be Resurrected
  • Early Attempts to Discredit the Resurrection Failed
  • The Empty Tomb Proves the Resurrection
  • Resurrection Accounts Lack Signs of Myth
  • The Apostles Would Not Have Died for a Lie
  • Nonbiblical Historians Confirm the Gospels