When I started researching this section, I knew it would be difficult, but had no idea what I would actually be getting into. The normal atheists and non-believers had their usual collection of scatter-brained ideas and theories based upon personal opinion and prejudices. I was able to counter their fallacious arguments fairly quickly.
However, since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a foundational point of Christianity- we are the only religion with a Living God- I did not realize what a target this aspect of our faith had become. There are many intellectual arguments out that trying to destroy the belief in the Resurrection, besides the normal rabble-rousers. Therefore, I had to do far more research than I had expected to counter these individuals who had actually read the Bible and other works written during that era and had unfortunately come to the wrong conclusions based upon the available evidence.
So my discussions of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be broken down into two parts: the easy part- dispelling the typical non-believers fallacies who make statements based upon their 21st century beliefs, and then the hard part where we will deal with the more intellectual arguments where they bring up unrelated facts based upon their reading and misunderstanding of the mores (the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community) of 2000 years ago. In that section you can read and understand more and more until it gets too technical for you, which I am hoping it will not. I will be dealing with some complex issues brought up by the ‘intelligentsia’, some of which had me confused for awhile, but I hope to present the rebuttals on an easier to understand conceptual level for them.
So I guess it will actually be a three part series, this introduction and the two sections mentioned above.
As I will show in the easy part, the resurrection of Jesus, within the context of Judaism, was thought by Gentiles to be what can be described as “grossly” physical. This in itself raises a certain problem for Christianity beyond a basic Jewish mission. I have at times quoted Pheme Perkins (a nationally recognized expert on the Greco-Roman cultural setting of early Christianity) : “Christianity’s pagan critics generally viewed resurrection as misunderstood metempsychosis (the entering of a soul after death upon a new cycle of existence in a new body either of human or animal form) at best. At worst, it seemed ridiculous.”
It may further be noted that the pagan world was awash with points of view associated with those who thought matter was evil and at the root of all of man’s problems. Platonic thought supposed that “man’s highest good consisted of emancipation from corporeal defilement. The nakedness of disembodiment was the ideal state.” Physical resurrection was the last sort of result for mankind that you wanted to preach during this time.
Indeed, among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God quotes Homer’s King Priam: “Lamenting for your dead son will do no good at all. You will be dead before you bring him back to life.” And Aeschylus Eumenides: “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” And so on, with several other ancient philosophers denying the possibility of resurrection.
Wright even notes that belief in resurrection was a ground for persecution: “We should not forget that when Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons he was replacing the bishop who had died in a fierce persecution; and that one of the themes of that persecution was the Christians’ tenacious hold on the belief in bodily resurrection. Details of the martyrdom are found in the letter from the churches of Vienne and Lyons to those of Asia and Phrygia. The letter describes how in some cases the torturers burnt the bodies and scattered the ashes into Rhone, so that no relic of the martyrs might still be seen on earth. This they did, says the writer, ‘as though they were capable of conquering god, and taking away their rebirth [palingenesia]’.”
Judaism itself would have had its own, lesser difficulty, although not insurmountable: there was no perception of the resurrection of an individual before the general resurrection at judgment. But again, this, though weird, could have been overcome — as long as there was evidence.
Not so easily in the pagan world. We can see well enough that Paul had to fight the Gnostics, the Platonists, and the ascetics on this idea. But what makes this especially telling is that a physical resurrection was completely unnecessary for merely starting a religion. It would have been enough to say that Jesus’ body had been taken up to heaven, like Moses’ or like Elijah’s. Indeed this would have fit (see part 3) what was expected, and would have been much easier to “sell” to the Greeks and Romans, for whom the best “evidence” of elevation to divine rank was apotheosis — the transport of the soul to the heavenly realms after death; or else translation while still alive.
So why bother making the belief in this new religion even harder? There is only one plausible answer — they really had a resurrection to preach.