Monday, April 11

Is The Resurrection A Myth?

It has been claimed by critics that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is nothing more than a fanciful myth formulated to instill hope in people. Is there any credence to this concept, or is it fallacious? The concept argues that the historical Jesus has been shrouded in mystery, cloaked with obscurity, and changed significantly due to legends. In this entry, we will examine these claims, and attempt to weigh the options. (Photo credit: Clay Peck)

Some scholars, such as John A.T. Robinson, argue that the New Testament must have been written before the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, given its silence on the rather large event. While Jesus himself predicts its Fall, if the New Testament was written after AD 70 (save for the Gospel of John), why was it not mentioned in any of the writings? Now, according to comparative literature, we can determine that it takes several generations for a myth to develop, at least to its full extent.[1]

In other literature, we find no parallels or cases of myth developing - and being believed during the lifespan of the eyewitnesses - in regard to the short time frame of which the New Testament was written. In The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel interviews several experts - archaeologists, scholars, theologians, historians, medical practitioners, the like. One such expert is Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.. In the interview, Strobel brings up the dating of the New Testament. Blomberg recognizes that many date Mark to the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, and John in the 90s. He goes on to say:

"But listen: that's still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including hostile eyewitnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were going around. Consequently, these late dates for the gospels aren't all that late. In fact, we can make a comparison that's very instructive. The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander's death in 323 B.C., yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Yes, legendary material about Alexander did develop over time, but it was only in the centuries after these two writers. In other words, the first five hundred years kept Alexander's story pretty much intact; legendary material began to emerge over the next five hundred years."[2]

Blomberg continues, "So whether the gospels were written sixty years or thirty years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison... we can support [early dates] by looking at the book of Acts, which was written by Luke. Acts ends apparently unfinished - Paul is the central figure of the book, and he's under house arrest in Rome. With that the book abruptly halts. What happens to Paul? We don't find out from Acts, probably because the book was written before Paul was put to death... That means Acts cannot be dated any later than A.D. 62. Having established that, we can then move backward from there. Since Acts is the second of a two-part work, we know the first part - the gospel of Luke - must have been written earlier than that. And since Luke incorporates parts of the gospel of Mark, that means Mark is even earlier. If you allow maybe a year for each of these, you end up with Mark written no later than about A.D. 60, maybe even the late 50s. If Jesus was put to death in A.D. 30 or 33, we're talking about a maximum gap of thirty years or so... Historically speaking, especially compared with Alexander the Great, that's like a news flash!"[3]

John Macquarrie conveys, "Myth is usually characterized by a remoteness in time and space… as having taken place long ago." However, the Gospels concern "an event that had a particularly definite location in Palestine… under Pontius Pilate, only a generation or so before the New Testament account of these happenings." [4] Other historical research sides with this. Research shows that an early apostles creed, formulated 3-7 years within the death and resurrection of Jesus,  found in 1st Corinthians 15:3-9, implies prior public belief.[5] 

Generally, most scholars agree that Paul's letters were written in 25 years or less of Jesus' ministry, and the preaching of the apostles was centered on the Resurrection. It's also important to note that 1st Corinthians 15:6 records that Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once - after His resurrection.[6] Many of the eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus were hostile toward Him, as described in the Gospels. (For example, Matthew 12)

The opponents of Jesus possessed both the means as well as the motives to correct any fallacies, any falsehoods, concerning Him. However, they did not provide any serious correction whatsoever. Note that the Jews were the least likely to invent or distort Christ. History illustrates this, as the Jews opposed the concept of mythically confusing deity with humanity, and specifically focused (the devout Jews) on the worship of the one true God. (Who Christians know as God the Father.)

As noted by Michael Grant, "Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seems so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit."[7] In comparison to Jewish and Greek myths, however, the Gospels do not resemble these in any fashion. In examining this, there are several points to consider. First off, the Gospels contain details that would be counterproductive, not conducive to the invention of legendary heroes. By taking a look at John 20, we can determine several points, as noted by Rev. Gary W. Jensen, M.Div.:

"With great restraint, no attempt is made to describe the resurrection itself. Mary neither initially recognized the risen Jesus (the “hero”) (John 20:14), nor even considered that there was anything special about Him (John 20:16). Indeed, even by the end of the day, the disciples (the secondary “heroes”) were still in hiding "for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). And, were the Gospels the free creation of paternalistic bias, as feminists charge, it is incredible the writers would have chosen women to be the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. The testimony of women didn't even count legally. Yet, it was their courage the morning after the Resurrection that put the men's contrasting cowardice to shame."[8]

The Gospels, specifically the Resurrection of Jesus, simply does not meet the standards of a Myth or Legend. Why is the Resurrection so important in Christianity? As Paul conveys in 1st Corinthians 15:17, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." If Jesus did not rise from the Dead, as Paul succinctly says, your faith is useless. That is why the Resurrection is so important. Professor Leaney, in Vindications: Essays on the Historical Basis of the Christian Faith, writes:

"The new Testament itself allows absolutely no escape from putting the matter as follows: Jesus was crucified and buried. His followers were utterly dejected. A very short time afterwards they were extremely elated and showed such reassurance as carried them by a sustained life of devotion through to a martyr's death. If we ask them through the proxy of writings dependent upon them, what caused this change, they do not answer, 'the gradual conviction that we were marked out by death but the crucified and buried one was alive' but 'Jesus who was dead appeared to some of us alive after his death and the rest of us believed their witness.' It may be worth noting that this way of putting the matter is a historical statement, like the historical statement, 'The Lord is risen indeed,' which has influenced men and women toward belief."[9]

Verily I tell you, the Resurrection is not a myth. The empty tomb is historical fact. The disciples did not steal the body and perpetrate a lie, nor did they hallucinate, Jesus did not faint but did die, the witnesses did not go to the wrong tomb, and Jesus is an established historical figure. From these conclusions, the only logical conclusion, then, it seems is that the Resurrection is the only adequate explanation as to why the tomb was empty. He is "the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through [Him]." (John 14:6)

Troy Hillman

[1] John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (SCM Press, 1976). Print.
[2] Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 33-34. Print.
[3] Ibid.
[4] John Macquarrie, God-Talk: An Examination of the Language and Logic of Theology (Harper, 1967), pp. 177-180. Print.
[5] Reginald Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology (Scribner's, 1965), p. 142. Print.
[6] Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), pp. 11f, 14f. Print.
[7] Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels (Scribner's, 1977), p. 199.
[8] Jensen, Rev. Gary W. "Some say that Christ's resurrection was a myth, not history. Is this possible?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 1998. Web. 29 Mar 2011. .
[9] Professor Leaney. Vindications: Essays on the Historical Basis of the Christian Faith, Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1966. Print.


  1. I think if you search a little more deeply, you will find that the resurrection story is, indeed, a myth. Paul knew only a handful of facts about Jesus, and seemed to know nothing at all about his death. He didn't even believe in the resurrection of his body, only his spirit. The living Jesus wasn't even able to convince the disciples of his own story. Jesus explained the entire story of his death and "third day" resurrection on at least three occasions well before they happened. Yet there were no disciples at the tomb waiting anxiously for a resurrection. Far from it, they abandoned Jesus and dispersed at his arrest. None of them actually saw any execution or resurrection. Paul spent a few days with a couple of other apostles in Jerusalem, yet never writes a word about visiting the location of the execution, nor about ever visiting any tomb. How could he not visit the tomb of his Christ, nor write of his thoughts of being there? It's because he didn't know of any tomb. To this day, nobody knows the location of the execution or the tomb! How could Christianity lose these locations? They aren't known because the story is a myth.

  2. Anonymous,
    Thank you for taking the time to write us. However, I respectfully disagree. First off, employing the "argument from silence" proves nothing, this could be applied to various instances in history. It is a weak argument and tactic, due to the fact that Paul was alive and familiar with the accounts written by Matthew, Mark and Dr. Luke. Paul wrote to the churches with theological intentions, he was not attempting to "draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us," (Luke 1:1) as Dr. Luke and the other did. He was writing to the churches (aside from the likes of Titus, Philemon, etc), and was writing to explain the spiritual significance of the death and resurrection. Dr. Luke, who also wrote Acts, was a traveling companion of Paul's (see Acts, Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24). Dr. Luke, in Acts 13:28-31 wrote, "Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people."

    Paul himself refers to the cross on several occasions on this letters. He mentions in Galatians 2:20 he wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." In 3:1 he says, "...Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." In Philippians 2:8 he writes, "And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" There are other examples. Paul clearly understood that Jesus was crucified on a cross. To claim that Paul knew "nothing at all about his death" is incorrect, Anonymous. Before such claims are made, be sure to examine the writings of Paul. (see also 1st Corinthians 1:18-23)

    You also claim, "He didn't even believe in the resurrection of his body, only his spirit." I assume you are referring to Jesus when you say "his body." Actually, Paul believed in the physical resurrection. You are likely referring to 1st Peter 3:18 (note that it is a letter from Peter and not from Paul, though it is the contention of this ministry that Peter also believed in a physical resurrection) which says that Jesus was "put death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." This verse never says that Jesus was raised as a spirit, but "made alive in the spirit," wearing an imperishable, glorified body of "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39), not of "flesh and blood" (1st Corinthians 15:50). It is clear from Romans 6:1-14, 1st Corinthians 15:35-58, 2nd Corinthians 5:1-10, Philippians 3:21, and other passages that Paul believed in a physical resurrection.

  3. "When describing the physical resurrection, Paul almost universally uses egeiro (1 Cor. 15) -- he does use anistemi in Rom 14:9, but adds the word anazao, meaning 'live again'. In Eph. 5:14 he uses anistemi, but pairs it with nekros ('rise from the dead'). In his earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians, he uses anistemi (4:14). But his overall word to refer to resurrection is egeiro -- which is used mainly in the Gospels for people getting up from beds and seats." (Derived from:

    Also, "...Gundry's landmark study of the word used for "body" (soma) makes it quite clear that something physical is intended. In Soma in Biblical Theology, Gundry examines the use of soma in other literature of the period and shows that it refers to the physical 'thingness' of a body. It is often used in a sense that we would say, 'We need a body over here' with reference to slaves who are used as tools; to soldiers who are on the verge of death, to passengers on a boat, and to people in a census. In other places it is used to refer to a corpse (and so cannot refer by itself to the 'whole person' as some influenced by Bultmann have suggested). Xenophon (Anabasis 1.9.12) refers to the people entrusting Cyrus with their possessions, their cites, and their 'bodies' (somata). Plato refers to the act of habeus corpus in terms of producing a soma. Aristophanes refers to the throwing of a soma to dogs. It is used by Euripides and Demosthenes to refer to corpses." Derived from:

    Essentially, you are also stating that the disciples were told about the death and resurrection (and you are correct), however, they did not understand it - that was the issue. I believe Tekton Apologetics Ministry best answers this issue:

    You also state, "Paul spent a few days with a couple of other apostles in Jerusalem, yet never writes a word about visiting the location of the execution, nor about ever visiting any tomb. How could he not visit the tomb of his Christ, nor write of his thoughts of being there? It's because he didn't know of any tomb. To this day, nobody knows the location of the execution or the tomb! How could Christianity lose these locations? They aren't known because the story is a myth."

    Indeed, Galatians 1-2 reveals that Paul visited the disciples in Jerusalem three years after his conversion, and met with Peter and James, and years later, went again to Jerusalem, this time taking Titus and Barnabas along with him, and met with James, Peter, John, and perhaps others (Galatians 1:17-2:9). However, it is your personal opinion that Paul should have gone to visiting the execution spot, or the tomb. He likely knew of the tomb, but why would he need to go visit it to verify it was empty, if he himself claimed to have seen the risen Christ more than once? (see Acts 9, 18, 22-23, 26; 1st Corinthians 15:8, among other references)

  4. There was no need for Paul to visit the empty tomb or the crucifixion site, because having seen the risen Jesus, his death and resurrection were already verified - he could likely see where the nails had been when he spoke to Jesus on several occasions - according to Dr. Luke and Paul. He was also not there for a social call or to discuss the weather. The church was under heavy persecution, of which Paul had once been partaking in. Because of this, there was no need for Paul to go around and "see the sites," so to speak. Nor did Paul specifically need to know all of the events of the life of Jesus. He had probably heard much of it already, having trained in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). In his letters, Paul normally addressed issues in the already established churches, such as false doctrines, gnostic concepts, incest, resurrection, and other similar topics. Trying to list the events of the life of Jesus would have done little to help Paul convey his point about say, incest. While it is true that much can be learned from the life of Christ, Paul did not utilize the events of His life much in his letters because he did not need to.

    Also, there are several uncertain things in history - people squabble over dates, locations, people, the like. This is nothing new, and given the aforementioned persecution Christians faced for several centuries, it is no wonder why they did not simply put up a memorial at the site of the death and resurrection - it was difficult enough to be known as a Christian without having to run for your life. In the process, the exact locations slipped from the minds of Christians, because those who had witnessed the crucifixion and knew where the tomb was did not need to return to those sites after the start of the church. It does not make the resurrection a myth simply because Paul did not do a few things you personally believe he should have, or that you have not examined exactly why the disciples had difficulty understanding the resurrection. The very fact that Jesus brought it up so many times attests to the fact that the disciples had difficulty understanding what he meant. He did not truly make it plain to them until after His resurrection, when "he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures", (Luke 24:45) and proceeded to explain, through the Old Testament, what had just happened. The short answer for the reason they were not "convinced," as you say, is because they were expecting Him to be taken up to heaven like Elijah or Enoch had been, a sign that the Father had vindicated the Son.

    If you have any further objections, or your first objections were not answered properly, feel free to comment back. You can also email us at or

    Thank you again for taking the time to comment. Perhaps this will clear up a few misconceptions, but in the future, when it comes to the resurrection and related events, perhaps you should "search a little more deeply." Take care, and God bless you.

    PS - You also stated that "None of them actually saw any execution or resurrection." This is incorrect, as John (or at the least, the "beloved disciple") is recorded as having been present at the crucifixion. As for the resurrection, you are correct that no one was present for that, however, no one had to be (though some contend that the Shroud of Turin is an eyewitness to the resurrection). Examine the other theories explored in these April entries, and you may find that there is a reason many disbelieve in them, and agree with a physical resurrection.