The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is founded on the mystical encounters of his closest followers. The only facts surrounding it was an empty tomb and missing body, everything else is conjecture.
In part one of, “The irrational basis of Christian faith” I argued it was primarily based on emotionalism and experientialism. While there are most certainly rational components surrounding Christian theology, largely thanks to the influence of Scholasticism, ultimately it is grounded in irrationalism. Which is to say, there is not a single piece of reasonable evidence upon which it is built.
In part two we will highlight some of the key inconsistencies, incompatibilities and implausibilities found when the four gospel accounts are compared. These findings render them unreliable as evidence to support such a grandiose proposition as Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.
In a series of earlier posts, I examined the four gospels in detail. This article will be a synopsis of that material.
The first Easter
It is impossible to navigate the resurrection details of the gospels without constantly running aground on the rocks of contradiction. For instance, what did the first visit to Jesus’ tomb reveal? Three gospels are unequivocal in stating the women initially discovered a vacant tomb with the stone removed. Matthew, however, departs from this tradition.
In his account, the woman arrive as a large earthquake begins. Then an angel of the Lord descends to roll away the stone revealing Jesus’ missing body. He informs the woman Jesus has risen and gone before his disciples to Galilee. They are to go back and report this to them. Along the way Jesus himself intercepts them and reiterates this charge.
If every other detail of the gospels were perfectly aligned, it would still be difficult to reconcile Mathew’s details and preserve the integrity of biblical authority. However, this is but one of myriads of data which undermine the resurrection story.
Note to reader: I have resisted the temptation to provide textual citations as I have in previous articles. I leave it up to the responsibility of the reader to refer to the passages under review themselves. It is the purpose of this brief summation to “tease” those interested into a fuller study and analysis.
Some Christians will devise the most ludicrous explanations to resolve these disparities. One commentator suggests Jesus “snuck” out of the tomb undetected while the women and guards were distracted by the angel, thus explaining why they failed to see him officially depart the tomb.
The next detail Matthew includes is a personal encounter with Jesus as they leave the tomb which no other gospel mentions. John comes closest by describing Mary’s meeting with Jesus on her second visit to the tomb after telling the disciples.
The biggest departure from the other three gospels is the inclusion of a Roman guard detail carefully guarding the sealed tomb to prevent someone from stealing Jesus body and claiming he had been resurrected. This raises multiple issues when compared with the other accounts.
First, why would they leave out such an important detail which would clearly help substantiate the resurrection story? Second, if Jesus had left before the stone was removed, it suggests he was resurrected in a glorified body not a physical body since this is the only way he could pass through the stone tomb. Third, if neither the women nor his disciples were anticipating his resurrection (more on this later), why were the chief priests and Romans? It is strange they were aware of his promise but his closest disciples were not. Fourth, by including these extra details, Matthew makes his account chronologically first since the others record a stone already removed. But given Matthew describes Mary and the women encountering Jesus, how does one explain Luke explicitly stating they did not see Jesus or his body?
The writer of Matthew was clearly addressing the prevailing “stolen body” theory by creating a store to disprove it. He was very likely aware of Mark’s work and may have had something to do with the removal of its ending to prevent contradiction. Regardless, Luke and John provide ample details which call into question its veracity.
Matthew and Mark describe Jesus and/or the angels telling Mary to inform the disciples Jesus will meet them in Galilee, yet the other two gospels unapologetically keep the disciples in Jerusalem where they first meet Jesus. One must question why Jesus would first have to disciples trek sixty miles to Galilee to meet him only to return to Jerusalem to again meet him there?
Matthew also records the rendezvous on a mountain in Galilee with Jesus noting “some doubted.” Is it plausible at least two of his closest disciples who had been repeatedly informed of Jesus resurrection by Jesus himself would doubt with Jesus standing before their eyes?
Relative to the previous point, Luke and John mention doubts as well. Assuming the Galilean meeting already took place, who and why would they still doubt something of which they had previous knowledge?
If one attempts to flip flop the accounts, the same issue arises. Why would some doubt on the mountain after repeated visits by Jesus in Jerusalem?
The question of Jesus ascension is another problem requiring resolving. If we conflate all four gospels we would have to conclude based on Matthew, Jesus did not need to ascend to heaven to receive a glorified body since he obviously had one in order to escape the tomb. Why then do Luke and John make specific reference to his ascension? What was the purpose if not to receive his spiritual body? Furthermore, Luke explicitly describes Jesus ascension very late on the day of his resurrection while John implies it is in the morning after Jesus encounters Mary and before he visits his disciples. Why multiple ascensions?
John’s record treats Jesus’ return as a mini Pentecost whereby he breathes the spirit onto his disciples empowering them for ministry. Luke, as mentioned, suggests Jesus ascended the first day but then alters this in his second treatise, Acts, to accommodate a period of forty days before his ascension.
These are among the main discrepancies between the four gospels. However, I believe the far greater argument against the resurrection, which has been touched on briefly, is the complete lack of awareness and anticipation of their own master’s resurrection by his disciples, followers and especially Jesus’ mother, Mary.
The argument from common sense
I don’t think there exists greater evidence the resurrection was a myth than the sheer obliviousness exhibited by his disciples and those closest to him. If we believe the gospels, Jesus repeated informed his disciples of his impending arrest, death and resurrection. Then he arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey to publicly signal his role as king of Jerusalem. Next he offered a series of discourses detailing his role as, “the son of man” who would return in glory. He offered parables which only his disciples could understand containing warnings to be alert and prepared for his imminent arrival. He celebrated Passover with his disciples which depicted his death but also the promise of the coming kingdom when he would join them. He raised Lazarus from the dead as a poignant object lesson. Matthew records the resurrection of the “holy ones” after Jesus’ death. As noted earlier, the chief priests were so aware of Jesus promised resurrection they posted a Roman guard which provided a powerful reminder of what was to transpire. But this is only half the story…
Even with all this foreknowledge, object lessons and reminders, when the women told the disciples Jesus had been resurrected, they still did not believe, nor when they saw the empty tomb themselves. In fact, when Jesus stood in front of them, they thought he was a spirit. How is it conceivable to think anything but they didn’t expect the resurrection because they had never been told of the resurrection?
There are two hypotheses. Either Jesus repeatedly told them about his resurrection or he did not. Everything contained in the gospels points to the latter. For obvious reasons, the writers had to present their information to support the former never imagining they would be compared and contrasted with intellectual rigor.
Where was Jesus’ mother? If anybody had no reason for not keeping vigil outside the tomb, it was Mary. Mary had intimate knowledge of her son’s identity, according the the gospels, which make her absence beyond comprehension. If she had the slightest inkling her son would be resurrected, she would have been there waiting for him. She was not!
In part three, I will offer an alternative theory which fully satisfies the biblical data, common sense as well as Christianity’s current existence. We will examine what really happened in the mind of Mary of Magdala Easter morning and how the resurrection story took flight. We will also explore how something which began as exclusively Judaistic in nature became entirely Gentile and outside Judaism.