The resurrection can’t be disproved, or so says a Christian on Bob Seidensticker’s Cross Examined blog. If it could be, the commenter tells us, he would abandon his Christian faith. Of course it isn’t up to sceptics to disprove the resurrection, or any other of religion’s fantastic claims. It’s up to those making them to demonstrate their veracity, just as it would be for me to prove I keep an invisible pink unicorn in my garage. There would be no obligation on anyone else to disprove it.
That being said, the resurrection is rather easy to refute. First, let’s qualify what we mean by the term, or rather what Christians usually mean by it: that Jesus rose from the dead in or as the same body that had, a couple of days earlier, died on the cross. There are, it’s true, some liberal Christians who find this such a preposterous idea that they concede the resurrection happened only in some sort of metaphorical fashion. They’re probably right, so our truck is not with these particular believers, even if their evangelical brethren take them to task for their apostasy. No, we are refuting the idea that Jesus rose physically from the grave, fully alive again, after spending slightly under two days completely and entirely dead.
Here’s how we can know this didn’t happen:
1. There’s only one eye-witness account of the resurrected Jesus, and that’s Paul’s (in Galatians 1.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15.45; I’ve covered this more fully here.) And what does he ‘see’? Not a resurrected body, just a beam of light and a voice, both in his own head as the text makes clear (the Greek states baldly his experience was ‘within’ him). His resurrected Jesus is therefore a vision or an hallucination or an epileptic event. It is most emphatically not an encounter with an actual man returned from the dead.
So much for our only eye-witness. What about the others?
There are no others:
2. All the other resurrection accounts were written, third, fourth, fifth hand, some 40-70 years after the supposed event, so they’re not exactly reliable. They are, in fact, positively unreliable. In these accounts, Jesus is unrecognisable to those who knew him; he walks through walls; disappears at will and beams up into the sky.
I’m sure it won’t escape your attention that these are not something a flesh-and-blood body can do. They are not, as a result, descriptions of real experiences and belong, like Paul’s inner experience, to the realm of fantasy/visions/hallucination. Paul himself was of the view that others’ experiences of the ‘risen Christ’ were exactly the same as his own (1 Corinthians 15.6-8).
Not only this, the gospel accounts of these visions were embellished between the time they occurred (if they did) and their being recorded many years later by different groups of interested parties. They were also significantly tampered with. For example, Mark’s gospel originally had no resurrection appearances; these were added later – possibly 40 years later – 80 after the events they supposedly describe.
And so we come to the most conclusive of the arguments against the resurrection:
3. The dead stay dead. Always, with no exceptions. Once the brain is dead it cannot be revived – certainly not 40 hours after it is extinguished. “Ah, but wait!” say Christians, “Jesus was (the Son of) God so the normal laws of nature don’t apply. He is the one true exception.” But this is special pleading based on circular reasoning: Jesus rose from the dead because he was (the Son of) God. How do we know he was (the Son of) God? Because he rose from the dead. As such, it’s no proof at all – even if, in Romans 1.14, Paul seems to think it is. The man Jesus died and then… he stayed dead.
There are other reasons that lend support to the fact that the resurrection did not happen (for example, all the noise about an empty tomb, which is nothing more than a distracting sleight of hand. So what? What does an empty tomb prove? Certainly not a resurrection.) These three, however, are sufficient evidence that Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead – and without the resurrection, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, Christianity falls apart:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…
How right he was.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my invisible pink unicorn for a walk.