Last year about this time, I celebrated Easter as a committed believer of our Risen and Living Savior. I have done so every Easter I can remember except for a rebellious stint I had while in my 20s (we all have those, no?). The one thing I knew for certain was that it was impossible to be a true Christian without this conviction.
.…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. – 1 Cor 15:17-19 (NASB)
Of course I believed in the Resurrection. It is a foundational belief. It is essential. As CS Lewis would say, it is part of “Mere Christianity”.
I have always been an avid reader, and I always saw books in the library or store that had titles that just screamed, “Open my cover and browse my pages if you dare. For we are here to challenge your Christian beliefs!” My church pastors had words for authors of books like this: Pseudo-Intellectuals, who “professing themselves to be wise, they had become fools” (Rom 1:22). They were likely angry apostates, out on an agenda to debunk The Word of God, the Anvil that has worn our many Hammers. It was easy to pass by these books left on the shelf without thinking another thought.
Upon entering graduate school, I was introduced to the Internet, and I was soon a little overwhelmed with the ease that I could obtain information. More than I few times, before I knew better, I had accidentally hit a porn site while in the school computer lab, and I would be furiously clicking the “close” button before an administrator noticed! The power of the Internet, the Information Superhighway, where articles and opinions were shoved in your face before you had a chance to see what was on the cover.
While working in the lab late one night all those years ago, I stumbled onto this site, an article by Dan Barker, self-proclaimed minister turned atheist, which challenged the reader to take what he called the Resurrection Challenge. The Resurrection Challenge was a challenge to harmonize the accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Four Gospels, and the one in 1 Corinthians 15 to remove the (apparent) contradictions. Dan Barker was a Christian minister who became an atheist simply because, he claimed, he found Christianity to be unbelievable. Another angry apostate! I read a few paragraphs of the article, but did not finish it. Of course the Gospels could be harmonized – we are only talking about the inerrant Word of God here! Sure the angels appear in different places in Jesus’ tomb, sure they said different things, but those details are so minor, so trivial, when considering he entire overarching theme of the Resurrection. The funny thing is, I never took it upon myself to at see if the Resurrection accounts could be harmonized. I knew they could, and that settled it. I clicked the browser window closed and did not give the Resurrection Challenge another thought.
Until last year. I was hosting our small group Bible Study, and the seeds of doubt had begun in my own faith. I was still a Christian, a believer in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I was scrounging around the Internet looking for some resources, until I again stumbled on, you guess it, the long forgotten Resurrection Challenge. This time, I read the entire article. Then I grabbed a steno pad, pencil with sturdy eraser, and attempted the Resurrection Challenge.
I admitted defeat in about 5 minutes.
Undaunted, I itemized most of the discrepancies that I found in the Resurrection Accounts just to see how many there were. Some of the contradictions are listed in the original article, but I had to check for myself. I was stunned at how divergent the accounts were. Not only were they contradictory in nature, they were practically completely different stories! This was not a case of several different eyewitness getting the story details slightly different, this was wholesale opposition. The truth of one Gospel account had to imply the falsehood of the other.
I listed the portions of the Resurrection accounts which diverged from the other accounts, and gave up after a couple hours. It really rattled me. If God wants us to believe in the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, why are all these accounts so different? If God wants us to believe, why did he make his recording of events so inconsistent with each other? If these were separate Police reports of the same event, would they even be considered? What truth could be gleaned from them?
Read the original article here. Take the Resurrection Challenge. What do you draw from your conclusions?
A list of some of the contradictions is at the end of Barker’s article. But he did not list one that I found, one that I consider perhaps the most troublesome and baffling contradiction in the entire Bible. It concerns whether Christ rose in the Flesh, or rose in the Spirit. Here I list two accounts from the Resurrection narratives:
In 1 Cor 15, Paul is speaking of the resurrection of the dead, following the example of the resurrected Christ. He makes this remark that states Jesus was risen with a Spiritual, and most emphatically not Physical body.
So also is the resurrection of the dead It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
1 Cor 15:42-44 (NASB) – but read the whole chapter for good context.
The resurrected Jesus has just disappeared from Emmaus, and has appeared to the eleven remaining disciples in
Jerusalem. He mentions that he has a Physical, and most emphatically not Spiritual body.
While they (the eleven disciples) were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them. Luke 24:36-43 (NASB)
The only way I have seen these two passages reconciled is with the tried and true Harmonization by Omission tactic. I have heard the theory that Jesus could have risen as spirit, ascended to heaven while nobody was around, then came back to Earth as flesh. I won’t even entertain that idea here, because to give it credibility is to be desperate to even include sheer brute force to make this issue harmonize.
Some Christians concede that while the details of particular passages may differ, the essence remains consistent. I don’t see a consistent essence in this case. Everything differs except the amorphous detail that Jesus rose. What message he left, who he saw, what form he took and what he did remains unknown, because not a single detail can be reconciled.
The essence of Jesus life through the Gospels seems to be consistent, at least through the Synoptics. He taught similar things, he performed similar miracles, and events can be harmonized with a little ironing over rough details. Why do the events diverge so greatly after the crucifixion? There is general agreement that Mark is the first Gospel to be written, and many scholars agree that there is not much of a Resurrection story in that Gospel. Many scholars agree that the Gospel ends at Mark 16:8, with the women fleeing the sepulcher in fear. The End. If that is true, could it be that when Matthew and Luke were independently compiling their Gospels from Mark, and left with a paucity of Resurrection material, had to elaborate their own accounts from Oral Tradition and legend? What about John? Perhaps he had to derive things independently as well, thus four wildly divergent Resurrection accounts.
That is the only thing that makes sense to me. Is the Resurrection of our Savior Myth and Legend?
Tomorrow I will go to mass with my wife and celebrate Easter with her. I want to believe, I truly do, but what am I to hold my faith on? I am convinced that the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is incorrect, so do I have nothing to go on but 2000 year-old hear-say? I want to believe because I am afraid to discard a belief I have held my entire life. I want to believe for the sake of my family, and the sake of my wife.
I am afraid to say it. But I must admit it. This will be the first Easter that I celebrate as a non-believer.