The disciples, being ancient 1st century people, were superstitious people who didn’t understand biology etc like we do today and believed in supernatural occurrences like resurrections.
They had believed Jesus was the Messiah when he was alive, and after he was dead they had a spiritual sense, a religious feeling, an existential experience that Jesus was still with them.
Over time, these feelings of Jesus’ spiritual presence developed into stories of Jesus’ physical presence and later those stories were developed into Gospel texts that were written in order to prove the Church’s claims that Jesus was the Resurrected Messiah.
That’s the standard skeptical explanation, and I’ve heard it from more than a few of you. The problem with the standard, skeptical explanation- other than it’s complete ignorance of first century culture. And history. Not to mention Judaism. And Greek philosophy- is that it leaves too many ingredients unaccounted for.
For one, it fails to account for the fact that the message of Resurrection doesn’t begin in the Gospels.
It begins immediately, right after Jesus dies, with hundreds of people testifying: ‘I’ve seen Jesus resurrected from the dead, and the tomb is empty.’ Even if you do not believe the resurrection as an historical event; the resurrection claim remains a fact of history and it is announced not generations later but only days.
Another problem with the standard, skeptical explanation is that it fails to point out that the resurrection message is first written down not in the Gospels but in the letters of Paul, written barely more than a dozen years after Easter, written in public documents that were read aloud and circulated throughout the Empire, written not as hyperbole or metaphor but as verifiable testimony.
Paul doesn’t just write ‘Christ is Risen’ in 1 Corinthians. Paul names names. Up to 600 names of witnesses who had testified to seeing the Risen Christ and who were still alive when Paul wrote down and sent out his letters. Witnesses who could be cross-examined by anyone who wished to call Paul’s bluff.
If he were bluffing.
Even if you choose to think the resurrection a fantasy, you still must account for the fact that those who first claimed the resurrection did not think it a fantasy. The biggest ingredient the standard, skeptical explanation leaves out is this:
If the Easter Gospels are legends that were written down to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and to make the Christian claims of resurrection credible, then why is it that they do such a bad job of it?
If this is calculated propaganda meant to convince, it sucks.
Why, for example, do the Gospels not lie and tell you that it was Jesus’ brother, James, the next eldest in the family, who buries Jesus, as was James’ obligation under the Law?
Because by not telling you James buried Jesus, the Gospels are telling that Jesus died in shame; that is, Jesus was a source of shame to his family. By not telling you James buried Jesus, the Gospels are telling you- reminding you- that Jesus’ family never believed in him. Not until something happened to them.
If this is calculated propaganda meant to convince, it’s not very good.
For example, why is it that all four Gospels are littered with Old Testament citations from the very beginning of all four chapter ones, but when they get to the Easter stories the citations go silent? Barely a one.
As though the Gospel writers are tying to tell you:
We don’t really know what happened but something happened. We don’t understand this. We can’t comprehend this. Nothing in our scripture or experience or tradition led us to expect this.
If these stories were concocted to prove and convince, case-closed, then you’d expect a lot more than zero footnotes to support their claims.
If this is calculated propaganda, it’s kinda crappy.
For example, if the Gospel writers were making a convincing case for Christ (that was not based in experience and memory) then they would never invent women as the first eyewitnesses.
It’s not just that women weren’t credible witnesses; they weren’t even legal witnesses. Women could not testify in a Roman court of law.
Their word meant nothing, and so their witness here in the Easter story proved nothing.
There is no advantage to casting them as the first eyewitnesses and there is every disadvantage. There must have been enormous pressure on the Gospel writers to remove these women from the story. But they didn’t. Why?
Likely, it’s because by then the women’s testimony was too well-known to omit. You can dismiss the resurrection. Call it impossible, if you like. But then the burden of proof shifts to you.
How is it that a novel, counterintuitive, unexpected message (God has resurrected a failed Messiah) emerged virtually overnight?
How is it that hundreds, not just the twelve, testified to it long before the Gospels were written? And continued to so testify even when it led them to crosses of their own?
And why is it that the Gospels do not read like calculated propaganda written after the fact, but instead read much more like the flustered, puzzled, confused testimony of witnesses each of whom tells the truth even if their facts and stories don’t perfectly match?
You can dismiss the resurrection, but if you let go of your superstitious belief in reason alone, you’ll see that resurrection is in fact the most plausible explanation.