The Resurrection Accounts – Objections and Answers


Jesus is supposed to have risen on the third day. The gospels say the resurrection was on the first day of the week. As the crucifixion was on the Friday that means the Sunday morning or the second day. What went wrong? Did he decide to come back early? Maybe he didn’t like it in hell!

Don’t you think that the gospel writers (who carefully recorded both Jesus’ statements about ‘3 days and 3 nights’ and the day of his death and resurrection) could count to 3 as well as their readers? And if that had been considered a problem by them, don’t you suppose they could easily have toned it down a bit? In fact, it is a simple Jewish idiom (rather like the French ‘quinze jours’ for fortnight), based on their habit of counting days (and their associated nights) inclusively.

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The disciples had stolen the body, and all the locals knew it! So he had to account for these reports somehow.

As one lawyer I knew commented, ‘If I could get that guard in the witness stand, I would ask the kind of question every lawyer loves asking: “If you were asleep – how do you know what happened?!”‘ The allegation as it stands must be false.

Also we run up again against the obvious inconsistency of all these men being willing to die for a cause that they knew to be a lie.

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Even if it wasn’t the disciples, it could have been body snatchers.

There are several reasons for doubting this theory:

a) The optimum time for a body-snatching attempt would have been the night of or day after the crucifixion, given that Matthew admits the seal and guard were not set until later that day. But if that had been the case:

  • the authorities should have discovered the theft when the tomb was sealed, and
  • the tomb would still have been sealed when the women arrived. It wasn’t: it was open.

b) Attempting to roll away a large stone from a tomb and extract a body without making enough noise to disturb guards sleeping beside it would be an incredibly risky enterprise. Not to mention the improbability of the guards failing to keep watch. They faced the threat of a death sentence for sleeping on duty in such circumstances.

Maybe they spiked the guards’ food?

c) The most obvious difficulty lies in a detail supplied, not by Matthew, but by John. He reports that when the disciples arrived at the tomb they found the graveclothes still lying there, with the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head, lying folded in another place (Jn 20:5-7). It is very unlikely that a body snatcher would risk stopping to unwrap the body at the scene of the crime, let alone leave behind the graveclothes, which would themselves be valuable relics, impregnated with expensive spices. Moreover, there was something about the positioning of these graveclothes that convinced Peter and John that this was not what had happened.

d) Apart from one intruiging exception, which we are just coming to in the main article, there is no evidence suggestive of body-snatching activity in Israel during that period. It is true that there was widespread theft from tombs in some neighbouring cultures, such as Egypt: but the robbers preferred valuables to corpses (witness the mummies of the Egyptian ‘god-kings’ still lying in their plundered tombs). Yet the only items of value buried with Jesus were the graveclothes, and they were left behind.

e) The proponents of this theory claim there was a market for ‘holy man’ relics in the far east. Maybe: but body-snatchers were unscrupulous men, and Jesus was virtually unknown beyond the bounds of Israel. Why go to all the trouble of risking arrest and even capital punishment to procure this corpse when their buyers would be none the wiser if it was just any old corpse?

Maybe their plan was to dress up the body in ordinary clothes and then escape with it by pretending they were supporting a sick friend.

So they spiked the guards food, then unwrapped and redressed the body… An inventive theory, certainly! But a very risky strategy worthy more of a comic farce than a serious explanation, as dead bodies tend to behave rather unnaturally. Since the tomb was outside the city walls, darkness and a quick getaway were their best option.

But what if He wasn’t dead?

You’d better review the evidence on that issue.

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So nobody actually saw the resurrection happen! This is an incredible omission given that it is the key event of the whole account.

Not really. All it indicates is that no-one was actually present at that moment – it would have been very strange if there had been, as it took place very early in the morning inside a sealed tomb!

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So why doesn’t Luke mention Jesus’ meeting with the women?

The most obvious reason (to a first-century man) was the prevailing attitude to the testimony of women (see point 7 in the main article). Luke emphasises the men’s scepticism of the women and immediately goes on to consider the testimony of the men. But it is also possible that Luke had not actually heard this particular detail, since he was not resident in Jerusalem. The primary source for his resurrection account appears to be one of Peter, John, or Mary Magdelene, who apparently brought them the news and was not herself with the other women when Jesus met them.

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Jesus told Mary that he had not ascended because he hadn’t died!

That ignores the distinction made in the gospel accounts between resurrection (from the dead) and ascension (into the presence of his Father). Quite apart from this initial ascension, forty days later he was witnessed ascending into heaven in full view of his disciples (Lk 24:50, Acts 1:9).

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I am surprised to find the inconsistencies between the four gospel accounts set out at such great length and then used to try to prove their veracity!

Naturally, if you have genuine eyewitness accounts of an event, from people who witnessed it from different perspectives, they will differ unless there has been deliberate collusion. On the other hand, when people collude to fabricate a story, though they may include some variation to lend credence, they are careful to avoid contradictions that may cause people to question their accuracy. The contradictions are just too great to support theories either of collusion or of later copying and embellishment, implying rather that the writers were unaware of the other accounts and the apparent contradictions between them.

But whilst these discrepancies are sufficiently pronounced to present a strong argument against collusion, they are no more than may reasonably be accounted for by a careful reconstruction of the sequence of events and the differing perspectives of the sources, as this analysis demonstrates.

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Surely, if things had happened the way you say, everybody should have known exactly what happened!

Not when you consider the circumstances of that time. Two factors are important here:

  • Firstly, in our age of worldwide electronic communication we forget how difficult it was to communicate in those days. In order to analyse the women’s accounts we needed all four gospels: but at that time written accounts were few and far between. Initially the emphasis was on eyewitness rather than written accounts, and the witnesses travelled far and wide about the known world. Anyone wishing to correlate their accounts would have had to do likewise, at very low speed, without even the benefit of knowing exactly where the people they were seeking were. In those early days, therefore, the gospel writers would have been obliged to rely on a combination of their own direct knowledge of events, and such written records and personal accounts as they themselves had access to.

  • Secondly, as just pointed out, a woman’s testimony was held in very low esteem. So it is unlikely that anyone would consider these accounts so vital as to warrant the effort of seeking out the accounts of the other women.

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What about the Turin Shroud?

The known history of the Turin Shroud does not begin until 1354, at which point it is owned by Geoffrey de Charnay, a French knight. Thus, even if it were genuine, the absence of earlier references indicate it was of no particular importance to the early church.

Note, however, that the Shroud, which is a cloth that would have been used to wrap around an entire corpse, does not match the description of the graveclothes in John’s account.

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It sounds like a simple case of mistaken identity! He probably just walked out…

That would sound quite plausible, but for the manner of his exit. The text literally reads, ‘he became invisible from them.’

That’s probably just a bit of later embellishment.

As always, such a claim needs to be examined in the light of Luke’s reputation for honesty and accuracy. He even gives us the name of one of the witnesses. And see how candidly he acknowledges the fact that they didn’t recognise Jesus right until the very last moment. If he had been trying to embellish the story, it would have seemed more convincing if they had recognised Jesus sooner.

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According to Mark it didn’t happen: he says the disciples still didn’t believe Jesus was alive!

Mark’s gospel (16:12-14), also mentions the Emmaeus story: but not any meeting with Peter. And he says that, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the evening, “he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” You’ve told us Mark was Peter’s interpreter, so he should know what happened. How then can Luke’s version of events be correct?

Firstly, as has been mentioned before, most scholars believe the original version of Mark’s gospel ends with the account of the women, at verse 8, and that the remaining verses are a later addition. This is because they are missing from the earliest known manuscripts. So, even though it is still widely accepted that these verses do represent a genuine early church tradition, to avoid unnecessary argument we did not cite them as evidence of the Emmaeus encounter. However, taking them at face value, do they actually contradict Luke’s account?

It is quite clear that both accounts only give a superficial outline of the evening’s conversation. But Luke’s version is sufficiently detailed for us to see that, even now, the disciples aren’t initially all that sure of the resurrection; for when Jesus appears they are terrified, thinking He is a ghost. And Jesus does indeed challenge their unbelief. Nor is it clear whether Mark means Jesus rebuked them for their failure to believe Peter and the two from Emmaeus, or for their earlier scepticism towards the women.

So the alleged discrepancy really comes down to no more than this: that the much briefer account in Mark makes no mention of Jesus’ meeting with Peter. But if even Luke’s account only makes a passing reference to this meeting and says nothing of when or how it happened, it is hardly surprising that the sketchier passage in Mark only mentions the better-reported incidents.

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Paul could easily have got the story from Luke, or vice-versa! You’ve told us that Paul was a travelling companion of Luke, so we know they had the opportunity.

But where did it come from? We also know that Paul met with Peter in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-7) and spent time with him in private, checking out the accuracy of his own teaching (Galatians 2:1-2). And this meeting precedes his first recorded contact with Luke (Acts 16:10).

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Sounds like mistaken identity again! John admits none of them dared ask who he was.

He also says ‘They knew it was the Lord.’ The subsequent conversation makes it quite clear that, not only were they quite convinced this man was Jesus – so was He!

However, this and the previous mention by Luke of the disciples on the Emmaeus road not recognising Jesus does raise an interesting question of exactly what Jesus looked like after his resurrection. Did he look younger, older, grander – or could he change his appearance at will? We could do a sizeable bible study on this one topic; but there isn’t really space here.

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If it happened later, why doesn’t Luke mention it in Acts?

Acts primarily documents the growth of the church. Chapters 1 through 7 focus on the church at Jerusalem prior to its outward expansion. If the appearance to the 500 had taken place then, Luke would have been almost bound to mention it. Chapter 8 shifts its focus to the persecution of the church leading to its movement outwards from Jerusalem. Luke concentrates his narrative at this point on Philip’s mission to Samaria – the next major staging post to the Gentile world, followed by his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Clearly, his interest here is not in providing further proof of the resurrection – he already regards that as having been infallibly proven (see Acts 1:3) – rather, he is interested in the events leading to the spread of the Gospel. Acts 9 picks up on the conversion of Paul, as he sets out to extend his persecutions to Jericho.

Paul tells us that the event preceded his conversion. So the most probable time would be during the early phase of Paul’s persecutions, when the church was in the process of scattering from Jerusalem. Luke’s reason for not including the account would be that he wasn’t there and it wasn’t directly relevant to his narrative.

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Perhaps they were struck by lightning! It appears from Acts 26:14 that Saul had been having trouble with his conscience: so if he was knocked out by a lightning strike, he could have imagined that Jesus was speaking to him.

A very imaginative theory, but a possibility so remote it would be a near miracle if it had happened in that manner! However, certain facts argue against it. A lighting strike does not appear as a ‘light shining from heaven’ to its victims – it’s just a sudden impact and a very loud bang.

Ball lightning, perhaps?

Keep trying – this is getting more improbable all the time! When we correlate all three accounts, we find that all of Paul’s party initially fell to the ground (26:14): but by the time Paul is having his conversation with Jesus, his companions are back on their feet, hearing the sound of this voice but not being able to understand it or see anyone (9:7 & 22:9). Curiously, not only was Saul the only one who understood the voice: he was the only one whose sight was in any way affected.

Psycho-somatic guilt-induced?

Since we have other witnesses to this uncanny light, we cannot dismiss this as purely psycho-somatic. Then we must consider the evidence relating to the nature of his injury, and the role played by Ananias. Ananias hears Jesus telling him about Saul’s blindness and instructing him to go and pray for his healing. Ananias is not stupid and argues that this is not a good idea, given Saul’s record. But he goes, and prays. When he does so, there is a physical result, with something like scales falling from Saul’s eyes.

So even if you try to dismiss Saul’s experience using this elaborate ‘ball-lighting’ theory, it is then necessary to make it even more fantastic by supposing that a Christian would hear of Saul’s injury, be convinced that he could and should do something about it, then actually succeed in causing a physical healing of Saul’s eyes.

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