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What Actually Happened in 30 AD?
(Integrity of the Resurrection of Christ)
Part One of this article first looked at background information to the resurrection of Christ. It then began investigating alternate theories to the resurrection. This second half of this article will continue the discussion of alternate theories.
The Koran (or Quran) is the holy book of the Muslims. It was written after the death of Mohammed in 632 AD by his disciples who had memorized his teachings.
Sura 4:154-158 contains the following statement:
They denied the truth and uttered a monstrous falsehood against Mary. They declared, "We have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.
Those who disagreed about him were in doubt concerning his death, for what they knew about it was sheer conjecture; they were not sure they had slain him. Allah lifted him up to his presence (The Koran, p.382).
Muslim commentators are divided as to what these verses mean. However, one thing is clear, the Koran denies Jesus died on the cross. "Therefore, the Bible and the Koran clearly contradict each other on this issue"(McDowell, Islam, p.105).
Muslim commentators have put forth two possibilities as to how Jesus escaped death on the cross. Both of these ideas have been suggested by others besides Muslims. They are the swoon and the substitution theories.
This theory states that Jesus never really died. Instead, it is claimed, He just swooned on the cross and in the coolness of the tomb revived.
First, "This is a theory of modern construction .... All of the earliest records are emphatic about Jesus death" (Little, pp.26f). Keep in mind, the Koran was not written until 600 years after the time of Christ; whereas, the Gospels were all written in the first century.
Second, remember the story of Josephus' three friends? After hanging on crosses for only a short time, they were taken down. Yet, even with medical attention, two of the three still died.
Compare this situation with that of Jesus. Jesus was scourged before He was crucified (Matt 27:26). Before being taken down, He had been on the cross for six hours and had a sword shoved in His side (Mark 15:25,33; John 19:34). Jesus was then laid alone in a tomb and a guard placed outside (Matt 27:57-65).
Given the cruelty of Roman crucifixion and these added difficulties:
Is it possible to believe that he would have survived three days in a damp tomb without food or water or attention of any kind? Would he have survived being wound in spice-laden grave clothes? Would he have had the strength to extricate himself from the grave clothes, push the heavy stone away from the mouth of the grave, overcome the Roman guards, and walk miles on feet that had been pierced with spikes? (Little, p.27).
After all this, are we to believe, "He could appear to the disciples in such a way as to give them the impression that he vanquished death?" (McDowell, Evidence, p.234).
"Finally, if Christ did not die at this time, then when did He die and under what circumstances?" (McDowell, Islam, p.124). All records of the life of Jesus from the time end with the ascension.
Some orthodox Muslims have proposed, "...God made someone else look like Jesus and that this person was crucified instead" (McDowell, Islam, p.107). Others have also made similar proposals (Baigent, p.379).
First, this idea has God involved in fraud and Jesus agreeing to the deception. This contradicts their known characters.
Second, Jesus was seen by thousands during his ministry. Surely someone would have noticed that the wrong man was being crucified. Also, Jesus' mother stood at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Surely a woman can recognize her own son!
Third, if the wrong man was crucified, he "... would have raged from the cross that he was not Jesus ..." (McDowell, Islam, p.107). Yet, no such cries are recorded by the eye-witnesses.
Fourth, this theory also ignores the question of the empty tomb and the nature of the resurrection appearances. Jesus said to have appeared to the disciples behind closed doors and disappear at will (John 20:19; Luke 24:31).
Fifth, as with the swoon theory, it also ignores the question of what happened to Jesus after 30 AD.
Sixth, this proposal has God killing an innocent bystander. Some Muslims have attempted to evade this problem by saying Judas was the victim (McDowell, Islam, p.107). But this idea contradicts Matthew's statement that Judas committed suicide (Matt 27:3-10). And the question must be asked, "Who is the more reliable historian -- Matthew, an eye-witness, or Mohammed, who lived centuries later?"
Lastly, this theory was not invented until the seventh century. It is merely an attempt to explain an ambiguous statement in the Koran.
The next theory to study was promoted by Hugh J. Schonfield in his best-selling book, The Passover Plot.
Basically, the story line is:
Jesus of Nazareth was just another nice guy whose luck ran out. Convinced that he was the Jewish Messiah, he connived to have himself arrested, drugged, crucified, and revived to fulfill the Jewish scriptures as he understood them.
Unfortunately for the comatose Jesus, a soldier jabbed a spear into his side before his henchmen could remove him from the cross. Later, all attempts to revive him were fruitless; his secret Jerusalem followers quietly buried him in a spot unknown to his Galilean disciples, who soon repeatedly mistook the beloved disciple, a young priest from Jerusalem, for Jesus himself.
Subsequently, the eleven prominent Galilean disciples and others began propagating the incredible message that Jesus had risen from the dead. Christianity was born (Babcock, p.245).
This theory suffers from several of the same problems as previous ones. What about the empty tomb that was being watched by a Roman guard?
How could the disciples have spent 3 1/2 years, day and night, with Jesus and then mistake someone else for him? How could the unknown man appear through locked doors and disappear at will? How could Jesus, who taught honesty and integrity His entire ministry, have involved Himself in such a deliberate, attempted deception?
As with the other theories, Schonfield rejects a large part of the known facts and only accepts the few points that fit his theory. It seems his own preconceived ideas and vivid imagination are utilized in developing this theory rather than historical fact.
This suggestion is the apostle Paul merely utilized the prevailing beliefs of the mystery religions and gnosticism of his time and adapted their concepts of a dying and risen savior into his preaching.
First, this idea simply ignores all the known historical facts discussed previously in this paper.
Second, "In the case of the alleged mythical parallels ... the evidence suggests that the Gnostic redeemer myth does not predate the writing of the Gospels" (Blomberg, p.101).
Further, "... all extant manuscripts with Redeemer Hymns are from AD 140 or later -- while Hymns of Philippians and 1 Timothy can be dated no later than the first century AD" (see Phil 2:5-11; 1Tim 3:16; Nash, p.228).
Third, "Aside from this weighty chronological consideration ... there are major differences in content between the Christian and Gnostic hymns" (Nash, p.228). The redeemer hymns have the god dying and rising annually (Nash, p.140). This cycle was usually in conjunction with the rebirth of spring (Blomberg, p.101). However, the Bible presents Jesus as dying only once and rising only once (Heb 9:24-28).
Lastly, it is doubtful that the redeemer myths actually record a bodily resurrection. "One can speak of a 'resurrection' in the stories of Osiris, Attis and Adonis only in the most extended of senses" (Nash, p.173).
The last proposal to study is the most radical of the theories. It simply claims that Paul made up the whole idea of a crucified and risen Jesus because he thought it was a good idea.
This theory was suggested in the controversial movie of the late 1980's, "The Last Temptation of Christ". During the dream episode (while Jesus is on the cross), the following dialogue occurs between Jesus and Paul:
Jesus: I was never crucified, I never came back from the dead. I'm a man like everyone else. Why are you telling these lies...?
Paul: I don't care whether you're Jesus or not, the resurrected Jesus will save the world and that's what matters .... I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world, then I'll crucify you. And if I have to resurrect you, then I'll do that too, whether you like it or not (quoted in Ankerberg, p.34f).
This scene obviously ignores ALL the known facts. As with The Passover Plot and Schonfield, the producers of "The Last Temptation" are suggesting a rewriting of history in accordance with their preconceived ideas. There is no historical evidence supporting their proposal. And remember, Paul was beheaded for preaching this story he supposedly just "made up."
Eight alternate theories have been investigated. All have been found wanting. None of them comes even close to explaining ALL of the known facts. All have logical and historical problems.
There are probably others that have been proposed over the centuries that have not been covered here. And most likely, even more will be put forth as time goes by.
But all of these theories seem to have several things in
1) They start with the assumption that a miracle did not occur.
2) They always have to ignore at least some historical facts.
3) History is rewritten in accordance with the inventor's preconceptions.
4) The authors all seem to have very vivid imaginations.
Christ Has in Fact Risen!
So what actually happened in 30 AD? There is only one theory which avoids all of the pitfalls mentioned above. It is the theory that has been around since the beginning of Christianity. In fact, it is what founded the Christian faith.
Former skeptic Josh McDowell explains:
After investigating the major alternative theories proposed, only one conclusion takes into account all the facts and does not adjust them to preconceived notions. It is the conclusion that CHRIST HAS IN FACT RISEN a supernatural act of God in history (McDowell, Resurrection, p.102).
This conclusion has profound ramifications. The resurrection is a Divine vindication of the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus said that the purpose of His crucifixion would be "... to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28).
At the Last Supper, Jesus "... took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'" (Matt 26:27f).
Just before He died on the cross, Jesus cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). What had been finished was all that is needed for the forgiveness of sin and attainment of eternal salvation. Jesus' resurrection three days later demonstrated that God had in fact accepted Jesus' death as the all-sufficient sacrifice (Rom 4:25; Heb 2:17; 9:24-28; 10:14).
"... if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus
and believe in your heart
that God has raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved
Bibliography (for Parts One and Two):
All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Ankerberg, John and John Weldon. "Facts on The Last Temptation of Christ." Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988.
Babcock, James F. "The Resurrection -- a Credibility Gap?", in Christianity for the Tough Minded, Ed. John Warwick Montgomery, pp. 245-251. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1973.
Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood; Holy Grail. New York, NY: Dell Publ., 1983.
Blomberg, Craig L. Historical Reliability of the Gospels . Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987.
Criswell. W.A. The Believers Study Bible: NKJV. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1991.
Erickson, Millard J. Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986.
Habermas, Gary R. Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ . Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984.
Josephus, Flavius. "Antiquities of the Jews", in Complete Works . Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981.
Knechtle, Cliff. Give Me An Answer . Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
The Koran . New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1974.
Lightfoot, J.B. and J.R. Harmer eds. Apostolic Fathers . Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988.
Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe . Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979.
McDowell, Josh. New Evidence That Demands a Verdict . San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1979.
The Islam Debate. San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1983.
The Resurrection Factor. San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, 1981.
Miethe, Terry ed. The Resurrection Debate. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987.
Montgomery, John Warwick. History and Christianity. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1965.
Nash, Ronald H. Christianity and the Hellenistic World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Robinson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament . Vol. I. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1930.
What Actually Happened in 30 AD? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was originally written as a
class assignment at Denver Seminary in 1989.
It was posted on this Web site April 10, 1997.
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