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Article 42 - Resurrection Theories
How Skeptics Attempt To Refute Jesus' Resurrection
Jon Gary Williams
Biblical skeptics, including some liberal theologians, adamantly reject the resurrection of Jesus. While skeptics, in a very broad way, accept the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, they deny that He was raised from the dead. They endeavor to explain away His resurrection with a variety of theories. There are at least seven such theories, all of which lack any rationale. They are merely fanciful, contrived ideas. What are these theories?
The Unconscious Theory
This theory claims that though Jesus was crucified, He never actually died, He was merely unconscious. This is sometimes called the swoon theory - fainting or passing out, not dead, but just unconscious.
Those holding to this view accept only those parts of the gospel accounts they wish and discard the rest. For example, they accept the record of the gospel accounts that Jesus was crucified, but reject the same record, stating that He died.
All four gospels clearly say that Jesus was dead (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30). And two of these men, Matthew and John, were eyewitnesses of His death.
Here we raise an obvious question. After suffering such a bloody and torturous crucifixion, how could Jesus have survived, unattended, in a tomb for several days?
The Spiritualistic Theory
It is claimed that only the spirit of Jesus was raised, not His body. Here is the picture: His body was still there, still dead, only His spirit was gone.
What do the scriptures actually say? The tomb was empty. The angel said, "He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:6). There was nothing there. Jesus' body was gone. Matthew could not have made it clearer. And later the apostles preached His bodily resurrection (Acts 2:27,31; I Corinthians 15:1-4, 35-40,44).
And here is another important factor. The only thing that can be raised is that which dies. However, the spirit does not die (Matthew 10:28). (cf. Gen. 35:18)
The Vision Theory
Some teach that Jesus only appeared to the disciples in a vision. In other words it wasn't real at all, it was just visionary. However, this theory encounters an enormous problem. The disciples touched Jesus and ate with Him (Luke 24:30; John 20:27). If this was only a vision, how can this be explained?
It is ironic that skeptics will create a miracle to remove a miracle, but, this is exactly what they do. In attempting to circumvent a miracle, another equally obvious miracle is developed.
The Mistaken Women Theory
It is claimed that the women went to the wrong tomb. So, this view places the blame on the women! "They just made a mistake." Again, it is amazing the lengths to which men will go to avoid plain scriptures.
Here are a few important questions. Did the men also go to the wrong tomb? And were the angels present at the tomb also mistaken? Why didn't the enemies of Jesus expose this mistake and direct the authorities to the correct tomb? Common sense says this is exactly what would have happened, which would have put an end to the resurrection story.
The last three theories are all alike, in that they claim Jesus' body was simply removed. The assumption is that His body was taken away and hidden.
The Joseph Theory
The claim is made that Joseph moved Jesus' body to a different location. Now this may sound plausible, however, it faces several serious problems. How did Joseph convince the guards to let him take Jesus body? Remember, the Roman guards were under threat of severe punishment if the tomb was disturbed (Matthew 27:62-66). Also, if skeptics accept the Biblical record that Joseph was a real person, why not accept what it says about his character? He was an "honorable" man (Mark15:43). Would such a man intentionally deceive others?
This theory lacks any logic, suffering from a failure to make sense. Like others, it accepts from the gospel records what it wants, discarding the rest.
The Disciples Theory
This theory says the Lord's disciples removed the body of Jesus. However, this view is easily exposed. First, if the disciples removed the body, why did the soldiers have to be bribed to say the body was stolen while they were asleep (Matthew 28:11-15)? Second, if the soldiers were asleep, how could they have known the disciples removed the body? Third, if the disciples removed Jesus' body, this means that they lied about His resurrection. Yet, these men endangered their lives teaching the resurrection. Question: Would men give their lives preaching something they know to be a lie?
The Enemy Theory
This theory claims that the enemies of Jesus removed His body. For the following reasons this theory is flawed. A sensible question would be, why would they have done this? What purpose would it have served? By stealing the body they would have only enhanced the disciples' claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. Also, if Jesus' enemies did steal His body, to refute His resurrection all they needed to do was simply to produce the body as evidence.
An Added Note
Not only must skeptics deal with the gospel accounts, they must also face the New Testament epistles which testify to Jesus' resurrection, especially those of the apostle Paul, for he explicitly states that many people witnessed the resurrected Jesus (I Corinthians 15:5-8).