The Life of Jesus: Lord, Liar or Lunatic?
by Eric Snow
[The following are video clips (not associated with the article) from a series entitled, "Was Jesus a Liar, a Lunatic, a Legend or God?"]
Many people, including intellectuals, hold the view that Jesus was a good man, a wise teacher, but deny that He was the God in the flesh and the Savior of humanity. Actually, He did not leave this option open to us. Jesus made claims about Himself, or allowed others to without rebuke, that implied or amounted to Deity (see John 5:18, 8:12, 58-59, 10:30-33, 11:25, 14:6, 20:28-29, Matthew 14:31-33, 23:37, 28:17-20, Mark 2:5-10). Although Jesus came to bring a message from God about the kingdom of God, He also came to reveal His identity. His personal claims were far higher than any other prophet's. For example, what prophet of Jehovah ever said (John 14:6), "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me"? Is this assertion false? What good is the rest of His moral teaching as found in (say) the Sermon on the Mount, when He is either a pathological liar who claims to be God when He wasn't, or a lunatic so totally divorced from reality that He believes He is Yahweh? As C.S. Lewis comments:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
Similarly, historian Philip Schaff remarks:
This testimony, if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in his every word and work, and acknowledged by universal consent. [Contrast this with the crude struggles of polytheistic gods in the Greek and Babylonian myths. Could they possibly be the sources for Christ's life?--EVS] Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and sound, is equally out of the question. How could he be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of his mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted his death on the cross, his resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of his Church, the destruction of Jerusalem--predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus. 1
Does Any New Testament Evidence Support Jesus Being A Madman Or A Fraud?
So then, when stepping back and considering the contents of the Gospels as a whole, can you honestly say the historical facts point to Jesus being either a pathological liar or an deluded lunatic? You can't, as one higher critic evidently did, totally evade this question, and claim the Gospels are "totally mythological in origin!" Calling the Gospels "myths" doesn't make them so--they hardly read like Homer's Iliad or Odyssey. They are set in a very specific time and place--Judea under Roman rule in the years c. 4 b.c.-31 A.D. If this claim tempts you, sit back some and try to gain some perspective on the Gospels by simply fairly rapidly reading them through in a modern translation, not pausing for long at any one place, while asking this question: "If Jesus isn't the Lord, then what evidence points to Him being either crazy or a con man?" If you can't find any such evidence, you should reconsider the higher critics' fundamental premises. Could someone speak the Sermon on the Mount, rebuke the ones about to stone the woman caught in adultery, praise Peter for recognizing Him as the Messiah and then immediately condemn him for saying He wouldn't be crucified, and so forth--yet either be totally deluded about His own identity or attempting to deceive others about it?2
The majesty of Christ's ethics and teachings are undeniable. Unlike the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 b.c.), He stated the Golden Rule only in a positive form, not a negative (see Matthew 7:12). By contrast, the Roman Empire's pagan mystery religions generally were very weak in the ethics department due to focusing on immediate experience of ritual. The question then becomes, when someone like Christ was watched by so many so long during His ministry, was why His disciples' admiration never flagged, but grew, despite all the trials and opposition they encountered. Wouldn't a madman or a liar break down at some point, such as after being arrested and being put on trial for a capital offense? After all, if Christ wasn't who He said He was, what personal gain was there in being put to death? Wouldn't a con artist then beg for his very life? If he was insane--could he have put up such a facade of even-mindedness that his accusers couldn't detect his true condition? Christ calmly stood silent throughout much of the proceedings before Caiaphas and Pilate, which hardly fits someone who's crazy. Higher critics can't make mealy-mouthed "nice" claims about Jesus being a mere great teacher. They must make a choice when facing the great trilemma, being ready to defend it publicly when rejecting Jesus as Lord: Is Christ a madman or a con artist? Can you reconcile either with the text of the Gospels?
The Problems Of The Empty Tomb And The Resurrection
The resurrection was central bedrock miracle of Christianity. Upon it Christianity rises or falls. Whether Jesus rose from the dead at a specific point and time in history determines whether Christianity is true. As Paul himself commented:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised." (1Corinthians 15:13-15)
Unlike the legends of Hinduism or myths about Greek gods, Christianity is a religion of history. Certain empirical facts of history have to be true, or else Christianity is a delusion. This historical approach makes it radically different from most other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, animism, witchcraft, etc., or philosophies such as Confucianism or Taoism. To them, history is fundamentally irrelevant to whether they have the Truth or not. They are based on theological dictums or philosophical speculations, not historical events. One well-educated Hindu, a Rama-krishna Mission teacher, thought it "seemed axiomatic that such vital matters of religious truth could not be allowed to depend upon the accidents of history. If the truths which Jesus exemplified and taught are true, then they are true always and everywhere, whether a person called Jesus ever lived or not."3 Hence, Christianity can be subjected to historical investigation, verification, and falsification in ways most other religions aren't (although Islam and Judaism are like Christianity here). To compare the Gospels to pagan myths, as some higher critics have done, operates on a fundamentally false premise: They plainly do not read like myths. The Gospels read like truncated biographies or histories that focus on the life and teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth, who died at a specific place (Judea) and time (31 A.D.) These accounts are placed in the (then) here and now during the authors' lives and the culture out of which they came, instead of some dim past time (creation, etc.) and spiritualized place (Mount Olympus, etc.) If you remain skeptical about this point, it would well be worth some time and effort to read a couple hundred pages of mythology by the Greeks, Romans, and/or Scandinavians first. Then read the New Testament, and compare how it "feels" compared to the ancient pagan myths. The difference should be obvious--but it may not be to those who haven't done so. So if the resurrection happened, and Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, but if He didn't, Christianity is false.
Could The Gospels Be Myths Or Legends?
It has been claimed the Gospels were myths, which meant they could be discounted just like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey or anyone's stories about the Greek and Roman gods of Zeus, Apollo, Venus, and Mercury. Asserting the Gospels are myths places them in a literary genre that's inconceivable to the informed mind. Calling them "legends" accomplishes little either, when much of the New Testament, perhaps all of it, was written within one generation (40 years) of Jesus' death. Anderson concluded that it is "almost meaningless to talk about legends when you're dealing with the eyewitnesses themselves."4 So now, it's time for the rubber to meet the road: Which one of the standard "explanations" by the higher critics for the resurrection should they believe in? Each one of them has serious flaws, and are unsustainable against objections. This means the miraculous is the only sensible explanation for the empty tomb come Sunday morning. (A fundamental premise throughout this essay is that an Almighty God exists, God is actively involved in His creation, miracles can happen, and the natural cannot always explain the natural, which makes the inference to supernatural's existence rational and sensible when reliable historical witnesses testify to its intervention in the world. No one booklet this length can deal with all the objections against belief in Christianity: Skeptics who have read this far are encouraged to consult some of the references in the bibliography if they wish to do more research). McDowell has done much work on the subject of the resurrection. This material is freely but briefly drawn on below.5
Why Denying The Tomb Was Empty Is Implausible
Confronting the skeptic is this basic problem: How can he or she explain the fact of an empty tomb come one Sunday morning during the Days of Unleavened Bread in (most likely) 31 A.D.? Apparent archeological evidence for this comes in a mangled form from the Nazareth stone the Roman government set up in Jesus' hometown. It proclaims an imperial edict that warns its readers against messing around with graves and tombs, with heavy punishments to match! Evidently, word about the stir the resurrection created got back to Rome in a garbled form through Pilate or someone else, resulting in this off-key response!6 Attempts to deny the tomb's emptiness simply aren't believable, especially when judging from the actions of Christianity's enemies.
Suppose you argue like Lake, that the women went to the wrong tomb, or Guignebert, that the disciples didn't know which tomb Jesus was placed in. The reactions of the authorities themselves shoot down these claims amidst the growing commotion created by the disciples' preaching from the Day of Pentecost onwards in Judea and elsewhere. Some elementary investigation by them would have quickly disposed of the matter, such as by asking Joseph of Arimathea (a member of the Sanhedrin himself) where his tomb was. Furthermore, would the Romans have guarded the wrong tomb? Christianity could have been strangled in the cradle by simply producing the body of Jesus, perhaps by presenting it on an ox cart rolled down the main streets of Jerusalem. Who could believe that Jesus had risen right after seeing His dead body? The preaching about Christianity's claims did not begin in some place far from where Jesus Himself had lived, such as Athens, where checking up on His followers' claims would have been difficult. Furthermore, statements by hostile or unsympathetic witnesses in the New Testament (which is the strongest kind of historical evidence possible--concessions to the enemy) show the Jewish leadership knew the tomb was empty, and that they didn't know where the body of Jesus was. Why else would have they have bribed the guards at the tomb to spread the story that (Matthew 28:11): "His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep"? Instead, they would have said, "We know where the body is, and we'll show it to you now."
Gamaliel was a leading rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin, which ruled the Jews subject to restrictions imposed by Rome. Consider the implications of his fence-straddling statement that we can't be certain if this movement is of God or of men, so we should be careful about punishing these men for preaching about Jesus (Acts 5:34-40). It's inconceivable he would say this if the body of Jesus could be shown to people and/or the Jewish leadership had it. Obviously, Gamaliel simply didn't know where it was, nor his friends on the Sanhedrin, so he counseled caution. Anyway, could have the women or the disciples have all gone to the wrong tomb? Would have they forgotten where their loved one lay?
The Guards Were Romans, Not The Jewish Temple Guard
The guards in question almost certainly were Romans, not the Temple guard, unlike what some have said. Would have the elders of the Jews bribed their own temple guard? Furthermore, since the standard penalty in the Roman legions for falling asleep while on guard duty was death, it would make sense the soldiers in question would appeal to the Jewish leadership (someone outside the chain of command) to save their skins. Appealing to any Roman officer or leader would surely be of no avail, and a swift, summary death would soon be their fate. Anyway, could have Jewish guards be bribed into lying about their Messiah? The dispute over the composition of the guard is based on Pilate's positive response to the chief priests and Pharisees' request. They wanted a guard placed on Jesus' tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming He rose from the dead. Note Matthew 28:65: "Pilate said to them, 'You have a guard, go, make it as secure as you know how.'" If this command is in the imperative, it would mean (as Alford says) "Take a body of men for a guard." Logically, the Jews wouldn't ask Pilate for a Roman guard had they intended to use their own guards to begin with. Also, the Greek word translated guard, "koustodian," which comes from Latin, really is weighted towards meaning some detachment of Roman troops, especially the guard unit of a Roman legion. Then, consider the implications of the Jewish leadership promising to the Roman guards who fell asleep when Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:14): "if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." If the troops were Temple guards, which they fully controlled, why refer to Pilate's (Roman) authority over them?7
Were The Resurrection Appearances Hallucinations?
Were the resurrection appearances mere hallucinations? This is another way to contend Jesus' body still lay in the tomb, while still trying to explain what transformed the disciples' behavior from cowards in hiding into men silencible only by death. This theory suffers from numerous deadly flaws. Its biggest problem is that those who suffer from hallucinations imagine what they expect to see and desire to see. However, the disciples plainly were NOT anticipating Jesus to rise from the dead. Even afterwards, according to the New Testament itself, some still had doubts. Expecting Jesus to be the Conquering Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, they thought He would install them as His top lieutenants under His rule (Matthew 18:1, 20:20-28, Mark 9:33-35, Luke 22:24-30). The disciples had a long, hard time unlearning the prevailing Jewish view of what the Messiah would do when He appeared. It took the crucifixion and the resurrection to pound it out of them. Even then, the change wasn't instantaneous. Not until some time after Jesus' resurrection did they understand the truth that the Messiah came the first time to suffer and die for humanity's sins, not to rule the earth then (Acts 1:6-8). (However, judging from their question in Matthew 24:3, they had at least some glimmer that Jesus would come again). They repeatedly refused to believe or even understand His prophecies of His own impending crucifixion and resurrection. Christ praised Peter for saying He was the Messiah, but then blasted him for refusing to believe that: "He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day" (Matthew 16:21, cf. Mark 9:31, Luke 9:22-26, Luke 17:25, Matthew 17:12, 19, 22-23, 20:17-19). Jesus on another occasion told His disciples (Mark 9:31): "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later." The New Testament then affirms that the disciples didn't understand this. (This incident illustrates how it again and again reveals the imperfections and flaws of the founders of Christianity under Jesus, showing it was hardly a mindlessly partisan document). "And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said" (Luke 18:34).
The New Testament repeatedly notes disciples' lack of faith about Jesus' resurrection, including even after it happened! (See Matthew 28:17, Mark 16:11, 13, Luke 24:11, 41, John 20:25). The resurrected Christ rebuked them for their unbelief (Mark 16:14): "And after He appeared to the eleven [disciples/apostles] themselves as they were reclining at the table, and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen." The disciples were not going to hallucinate about something--the resurrected Christ--that they didn't really expect to happen to begin with. The women who carried the spices to the tomb early Sunday morning obviously expected to find Jesus dead, not alive!
Hallucinations Need Certain Types Of People And Experiences To Be Possible
Other problems abound with claiming the resurrection appearances were hallucinations. Normally hallucinations only afflict the paranoid and (especially) the schizophrenic. These psychological labels hardly describe the disciples, with hard-headed fishermen and a former tax collector among them. Among the disciples were Philip, who was rather skeptical (John 6:5-7, 14:8-10), and doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29), who demanded decisive empirical evidence that he could touch, not just see. Such men are not the kinds prone to hallucinations. Hallucinations also are highly individualized occurrences--it's absurd to posit that two people, let alone groups of them, would have the same one. Paul maintained some 500 saw the resurrected Jesus (1Corinthians 15:6). Did they all hallucinate the same thing?
Neurobiologist Raoul Mourgue maintains that hallucinating "is not a static phenomenon but essentially a dynamic process, the instability of which reflects the very instability of the factors and conditions associated with its origin." The appearances of the resurrected Christ were sustained close encounters, which included Him eating dinner with the disciples, His invitations for the disciples to touch Him, His speaking with them, and appearing under difference circumstances before different people (Luke 24:39-43, Matthew 28:9-10, John 20:25-27). If they were only hallucinations, wouldn't some have suddenly realized that they were only seeing things part way through the encounter? When normal people are uncertain of what one sense tells them--when they suspect they are hallucinating--they examine what their other senses are telling them as a check. Psychiatrists Hinsie and Shatsky note that "in a normal individual this false belief usually brings the desire to check often another sense or other senses may come to the rescue and satisfy him that it is merely an illusion."8 Jesus' resurrection appearances involved all three major cognitive senses, not just sight. All these factors decisively militate against believing hallucinations could explain how the disciples' behavior was so utterly transformed almost literally overnight.
Did The Disciples Steal The Body?
Once the truth of an empty tomb is established, how can it be explained? One standard explanation, which Matthew himself alludes to (Matthew 28:13, 27:63), claims that the disciples stole the body, concealed it, and proclaimed Jesus was alive. What problems does this face?
First, consider the Roman guard the Jewish authorities so thoughtfully placed around the tomb, complete with the imperial seal (Matthew 27:62-66). The Roman guards were extremely capable soldiers. The death penalties threatened upon soldiers sleeping while on guard duty produced discipline and a "faultless attention to duty, especially during the night watch," according to the historian Dr. George Currie.9 If the disciples had approached the tomb with the intent of stealing the body, one of these trained professional soldiers, let alone two or three, could have easily dispatched all of them. Second, as alluded to above, after Jesus' arrest, the disciples fled and hid (Matthew 26:56). Later, even impetuous Peter, fearful of being recognized as one of Jesus' followers, denied Him three times. Could have these frightened, disorganized men, who did not expect or really believe Jesus was to rise to begin with, be able even to plan such a heist, let alone pull off such a brilliant would-be coup? With their Messiah dead on the cross, they obviously thought their grand hopes of a future filled with ruling the nations under Him were equally defunct. Third, the testimony of their lives morally points to the impossibility of them being such intentional deceivers. True, they had their moral flaws, especially before conversion, as the New Testament makes plain. (This shows its objectivity, just as the Old Testament reveals the imperfections of David, Jacob, and Abraham). Nevertheless, pulling off a vast intentional deceit would be totally out of character for them. Why establish a religion that condemns lying upon a base of fraud? As religious Jews, they would still have feared God's wrath if they lied about Him.
Fourth, would the disciples die for a lie that they knew was a lie? Wouldn't one or more of them, when given the chance, deny Jesus rose from the dead when put on trial for their lives? In Pliny the Younger's message to the Emperor Trajan (quoted from above), as well as when the early Christian leader Polycarp was martyred (A.D. 155), the Romans offered the Christians in question the chance to save their skins, if they would deny Christ. By and large, the Romans weren't out to kill Christians for the sake of killing them. They merely sought restore them to paganism and civic loyalty by forcing them to repent enough to sacrifice to the emperor and/or to renounce Jesus. By tradition, eleven of the twelve apostles died martyrs. What good is dying for some cause you know is false, when no personal gain is possible from continuing to uphold it, and by abandoning it, you could save your life? Fifth, even if the guards did fall asleep, could they have remained so as the disciples tiptoed past them to move the tomb's huge covering stone? It likely weighed between one and a half to two tons! The guards would have to be totally deaf to miss the ensuing commotion--who may have been 16 in number. All these objections make the ancient Jewish claim that the disciples stole the body insufferably implausible.
The Swoon Theory Weighed And Found Wanting
Another attempted naturalistic (non-supernatural) explanation for the resurrection maintains Jesus did NOT actually die on the cross, but merely fainted. Then after being entombed, he revived in its cool air. The masses of evidence pointing to Jesus' death destroy this theory. It's impossible to believe He was actually still alive. First, Jesus was scourged. This was not a mere whipping with (say) a standard horse or bull whip. The whip likely had one or more leather cords or thongs attached to a handle, sometimes with pieces of metal or bones weighted or knotted in to make it more effective in cutting the flesh. According to the early church historian Eusebius, the standard scourging laid bare the victim's veins and "the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure." As a result, Jesus was already greatly weakened when He was nailed onto the cross, as His evident inability to carry the beam of His cross (or stake?) to His place of execution indicates (Luke 23:26). Even when rescued from the cross before death overtook them, crucifixion victims seldom lived. The Romans crucified three of Josephus's friends while they quelled the 66-70 A.D. revolt in Judea. Josephus appealed to Titus, the Roman general in charge (and future emperor) to have them taken down. Although his request was granted, two of them still died shortly thereafter. The Roman soldiers serving as executioners were presumably experienced in knowing what dead men looked like. Finding Jesus was dead already, they noted the two thieves crucified with Him weren't by contrast (John 19:32-33): "The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him, but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs." They broke the legs of the thieves to bring a sudden end to their lives. Crucifixion victims need the support of their legs, or else asphyxiation soon followed. Since they have to keep lifting themselves up to breathe, their arms would soon tire working by themselves, and they would die from a lack of air.
Jesus Was Killed By A Spear Being Thrown Into His Back
This treatment wasn't necessary for Jesus. Why? Note what should be read as a parenthetical statement in John 19:34: "one of the soldiers [had] pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water." Compare this to Matthew 27:49-50 in the Moffatt translation: "(Seizing a lance, another pricked [pierced] his side, and out came water and blood.) Jesus again uttered a loud scream, and gave up his spirit." Most major translations are missing part of verse 49 (although Moffatt and Fenton have it). It actually has reasonable manuscript support: It's found in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, as well as Codex Ephraemi, L, 5, 48, 67, 115, 127, 1010, five good copies of the Latin Vulgate, the Jerusalem Syriac (Aramaic), and the Ethiopic. Normally, this manuscript support would be enough to earn it a place in the critical text (of Westcott-Hort, etc.). Evidently, translators omit it because John appears to contradict Matthew about whether the spear was thrown into Jesus' back before or after His death. The "contradiction" can easily be resolved by noting John was using an aorist past tense in a parenthetical comment. (In the Greek language, the aorist tense refers to something having occurred at one point in time in the past, or at widely separated points in time). Therefore, after suffering on the cross for about six hours, Jesus was dramatically slain by a spear while still alive, but the soldiers instead simply broke the legs of the thieves to hasten them to their untimely ends.10
Further Proof That Jesus Really Was Dead
Still more evidence points to Jesus' death. Being a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus' body. Pilate summoned the centurion who presided over the crucifixion. After asking him "whether He [Jesus] was already dead," he handed over Jesus' corpse to Joseph (Mark 15:43-45). Along with Nicodemus's help, who supplied some hundred pounds of spices to be wrapped underneath the body's burial linen, Joseph laid it in a new tomb he owned (John 19:38-42). Not only had the Roman common soldiers determined that Jesus was dead, but their officer along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did as well. Even IF Jesus hadn't died from being scourged, crucified, and speared, traditional Jewish burial practices would have finished the job via suffocation. Using a sticky, gummy substance to hold it all together, they tightly wrapped dead bodies with linen after placing spices underneath. Then for three days and three nights, He would have had no food or water, or medical help for His wounds. With the boulder having been rolled up against the tomb's entrance, causing the tomb soon to fill with the odor of the spices, He would have received no fresh air. The swoon theory also faces further problems: Could have a bloody, wounded, weakened man not only unwrap himself, but push open the tomb's boulder? The women who arrived at the tomb Sunday morning "saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large" (Mark 16:4). Could have Jesus gotten by and/or overcome the soldiers guarding the tomb? Could have a battered, bleeding man appearing before His disciples transform them from cowards to heroes? As Keim says, cited by Thorburn:
Then there is the most impossible thing of all, the poor, weak Jesus, with difficulty holding Himself erect, in hiding, disguised, and finally dying--this Jesus an object of faith, of exalted emotion, of the triumph of His adherents, a risen conqueror, and Son of God! Here, in fact, the theory begins to grow paltry, absurd, worthy only of rejection.
The accounts of the risen Jesus passing through walls and suddenly appearing and disappearing (Luke 24:36-37, Mark 16:4, John 19:4, 20:1) and being able to conceal His identity at will (Luke 24:31) hardly fits the Swoon theory's claim Jesus underwent a mere resuscitation. Although he was a higher critic who sharply attacked the Gospels' supernatural aspects, David Strauss still saw the Swoon theory as absurd:
It is impossible that a being who has been stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac [mournful] voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.11
The theory that Jesus merely spontaneously recovered physically in the tomb is the sheerest nonsense. It's amazing that it once was a major way eighteenth-century Enlightenment scholars attempted to explain away the resurrection naturally, without invoking miracles.
How Can The Transformed Behavior Of The Disciples Be Explained Otherwise?
In any attempt to explain away the resurrection, the transformed behavior of the disciples must always be reckoned with. After Jesus' arrest, these men fled. The leading disciple, Simon Peter, denied Jesus three times upon the mere casual questioning by others around him. They hid away, afraid that the Jewish leadership would claim their lives, just as it had Jesus'. But then, suddenly, within fifty-four days of Jesus' death, they went into Jerusalem's streets preaching Jesus as the Messiah, repeatedly publicly accusing their fellow Jews of killing the Messiah (Acts 2:23, 36, 3:13-15, 4:10). These simple men, fishermen and whatnots, even withstood the commands of their nation's top leaders on the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in Jesus' name. Peter defiantly replied to them (Acts 5:29-30): "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross." THIS--from the man who some weeks earlier was so frightened that he denied Jesus to a mere servant girl? (Luke 22:56) Why the change? The disciples, if they were lying, knew it was a lie. Could have a lie that they knew was a lie have so utterly transformed their lives? Furthermore, being (post-Pentecost at least) fundamentally upright men upholding a religion that prohibited lying have been so deceitful? Would you die for a lie, knowing that admitting it would save your life? When persecuting Christians, the Romans often offered them their lives on the condition of denying Jesus and/or offering the pinch of incense to the emperor as a god. If they had concocted such a gigantic lie, it's hard to believe that none of them would ever break down under pressure. By tradition, eleven of the twelve apostles paid for their beliefs with their lives, with only John dying naturally. SOMETHING happened to so utterly change their psychology so dramatically. What was it, if not the miracle of their leader, the Messiah, coming to back to life?
The Differences From The Alleged Eyewitness Testimony For The Book Of Mormon
Don't assume that other religions could come up with similarly reliable eyewitness evidence for their faith's historical basis. The supposed witnesses for the Book of Mormon present a stark contrast to those for Jesus' resurrection. Of the two groups of witnesses listed at this book's beginning, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, only the three Smiths, members of the same family as Joseph Smith, remained in the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) Church until the end of their lives. The three witnesses supposedly had seen an angel show them the plates that Joseph Smith allegedly translated the Book of Mormon from. Later on, all three of them had visions that contradicted what Smith had received. Joseph Smith himself later called all eight of the defectors liars and cheats "too mean to mention." He accused two of the three witnesses of being part of a "gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars and blacklegs."12
1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1952), p. 56, Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962 (original publication, 1910), p. 1095, as cited by Josh McDowell, More than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977), p. 29.
2. McDowell develops this line of reasoning at length. See More than a Carpenter, pp. 25-35, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 103-9.
3. James Edward Leslie Newbigin, The Finality of Christ (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1969), p. 62, as quoted in Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1981), p. 15.
4. Dr. J.N.D. Anderson, "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Christianity Today, March 29, 1968, p. 6, as cited by McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 81. The evidence for the first century composition of the New Testament was discussed earlier above, a point that administers a death blow to claims that the Gospels were myths or legends. They simply were written much too close in time to the events they describe to fit in with how works in this literary genre develop.
5. McDowell, More than a Carpenter, pp. 60-77, 89-100, McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 179-263, McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 13-103, McDowell and Wilson, He Walked Among Us, pp. 278-90.
6. Michael Green, Man Alive (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968), p. 36, as cited by McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, p. 218.
7. See McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, pp. 210-14, McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 54-55.
8. As summarized by Heinrich Kluerer in Paul H. Hoch, Joseph Zubin, and Grhune Stratton, eds., Psychopathology of Perception (New York: n.p., 1965), p. 18, L.E. Hinsie and J. Shatsky, Psychiatric Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 280, both as cited by McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, pp. 249-50.
George Currie, The Military Discipline of the Romans from the Founding of the City to the Close of the Republic, pp. 41-43, as cited in McDowell, Resurrection Factor, p. 93.
10. See reprint article, "Did Christ Die of a Broken Heart?," 1959, 1972, pp. 3-5.
11. Thomas James Thorburn, The Resurrection Narratives and Modern Criticism (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1910), pp. 183-85, as cited by McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1, p. 233, David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus for the People, 2d ed. (London: William & Norgate, 1879), vol. 1, p. 412, as cited by McDowell, Resurrection Factor, pp. 98-99.
12. See Dave Hunt and Ed Decker, The God Makers (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1984), pp. 102-3.