A Skeptic Disputes the Resurrection of Christ
Ralph Matthews is a former college instructor whose retirement days are consumed with writing mini-diatribes against the Christian religion. In point of fact, he has nothing new to contribute; his hackneyed criticisms are but a regurgitation of past infidel quibbles.
On occasion, however, they do provide an opportunity to illustrate the superficiality of skepticism’s arsenal. In a recent article, this gentleman attacks the idea that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The focus of this brief discussion will be to consider this critic’s principal allegations.
(1) It is charged that “most biblical scholars” do not believe that Christ’s resurrection occurred. Has our friend made a survey to determine the percentage of “biblical scholars” who repudiate the resurrection event? What is the ex-professor’s definition of a “biblical scholar”? Is it only someone who is in tune with his rationalistic predisposition? And, in the final analysis, what really matters — historical evidence or “nose” counts?
(2) Again, the gentleman attempts to intimidate the uninformed by contending that “biblical scholars agree that no one knows who wrote the gospels.”
Consider this fact as a mere illustration of the full complement of evidence that might be mentioned. All extant ancient manuscripts of the first Gospel have the superscription,
kata Matthaion (“according to Matthew”). While textual scholars agree that this expression was added by a later scribe, it does represent a very early witness (possibly around A.D. 125). Moreover, the expression “according to Matthew” implies other accounts of the gospel story.
Further, the conviction that Matthew was the author of this Gospel record reflects the uniform testimony of the early church writers, e.g., Papias (c. A.D. 130-150), Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185), Origen (c. A.D. 185-254), etc. These men were certainly in a better position to know who the author was than is the skeptic under review.
(3) Our friend asserts that the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses to the evidence. If the four Gospel accounts were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (as the earliest evidence indicates), then Matthew certainly was a witness, as was John — the two being apostles of Jesus. Moreover, Mark was the son of Mary (Acts 12:12), and a companion of Peter (1 Pet. 5:13); he thus stands in close proximity to the events of Calvary.
Finally, Luke was a first-class historian who investigated the matter with the greatest of care (Lk. 1:1-4). And since he was a physician (Col. 4:14), thus of a scientific background, he would have been persuaded of a resurrection from the dead only on the ground of the most compelling evidence.
(4) The skeptical Mr. Matthews alleged that the case for the resurrection would be “dismissed” in a modern civil court, due to lack of evidence. He contends that “no one saw Jesus arise and walk from the tomb.” Several things may be said in response to this reckless statement.
First, one of the world’s foremost authorities on “legal evidence” disputed the charge. Simon Greenleaf, who served as Dane Professor of Law at Harvard, and who wrote one of the most authoritative texts on the nature of legal evidence ever produced, critically examined the testimony of the four Gospel writers, subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny in the light of legal standards. He concluded that the New Testament writers pass the test with flying colors (see: The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, Newark: NJ: Soney & Sage, 1903, pp. 1-54).
Second, it is not true that “no one saw Jesus arise and walk from the tomb.” There were witnesses to the resurrection — and they provide unbiased testimony. Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb to make sure that Jesus’ disciples did not confiscate the body, thus feigning a resurrection.
These “guards” (
koustodia — cf. Eng. “custodian”) were described as “watchers” (Mt. 28:4). The term “watchers” is actually a present tense participle, the “constantly-watching ones.” After the Lord was raised, these “watchers” reported the event to the Jewish “chief priests.” Note Matthew’s specificity: the guards told “all that had taken place" (Mt. 28:11; emp. added). Their report was responsible for the absurd fabrication that “his disciples came by night and stole him away” while they were “sleeping” (28:13). There’s nothing more credible than a sleeping witness — right?! This evidence Mr. Matthews conveniently ignores.
Third, whether anyone saw Jesus “arise and walk out of” the tomb or not is irrelevant. If it is known that he was dead, and if he made post-death appearances (of which there is ample testimony), then there was a resurrection. Simple logic establishes this conclusion.
(5) Finally, critic-Matthews cites several differences in the records produced by the Gospel writers. This objection is so amateurish that it scarcely is worthy of mention. But two brief points can be made.
First, incidental differences demonstrate a lack of collusion, hence, actually provide credibility — not the reverse.
Second, differences are insignificant (merely revealing independent perspectives) — unless there is bona fide contradiction. And there are no real discrepancies in this case.
Time and again atheists have demonstrated that they are bereft of those literary skills necessary to judge the credibility of historical documents.
In a sense, then, we owe our friend a debt of gratitude. He has provided continuing evidence of skepticism’s inability to overthrow the foundation of the Christian system — namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.