When having interfaith dialogues, the word God is often thrown around. “You believe in God? I believe in God!” When in actuality, the “God” spoken of is totally different in the eyes of the respective believer. So it is imperative in these conversations to “define terms”. Ask what does a person mean by God. Ask them who they believe God is.
It’s often said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, the Muslim God has no Son unlike the Christian God. Muslims believe in “Jesus” but their Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not die for the sins of the world. Of course, the Christian Jesus did. These are, in no way, minor differences.
The Mormon god was once a man who is currently married to his heavenly wife. This is a different god.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is not God but is, instead, the archangel Michael. In Mormonism, he is the spirit child of “God” and his wife and is the brother of Lucifer. This is a drastically different Jesus. Yet, both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons consider themselves Christians.
Many Arabic speaking Christians call God “Allah”. Muslims call their’s “Allah”. It is not the same “Allah”. Though many would have us believe it is.
Many religious groups other than Christians use the term God when speaking of their own deities. Often it is used as a generic term. Even in Christendom, God is actually a title and not a name for Yahweh (YHVH from the Hebrew יהוה). The word “God” actually comes from the German “Gott”.
To some people “God” may just mean some non-personal energy or just the material universe itself. To others we human beings make up the collective “God consciousness”.
To have clear and concise communication in theological discussions, defining terms can make the difference between what we agree on and what we disagree on. It lays the foundation. Understandably, we won’t always be right in everything we discuss. But making the differences known from the beginning can get to the root of the issue.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. -1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The crux of the Christian faith hangs on this one issue. Previously, I stated that one of the evidences for Jesus being who He said He is was the fact of the resurrection. Here, I will discuss why we can believe in the resurrection without reservation. I will discuss some of the arguments used against the resurrection and give rebuttals to those arguments.
1. Swoon Theory– This argument against the resurrection states that Jesus did not die on the cross, but was just weak and passed out (or swooned). When His tomb was found empty and He was seen alive after His death, it wasn’t because of a postmortem resurrection. It was because He didn’t die in the first place.
Rebuttal: While it is probable that a person can seem to die and not be dead, it is unlikely that this is what happened to Jesus for the following reasons:
Jesus received the horrible 39 lashes before His crucifixion. This was not just done with a regular whip but with a Roman flagrum. The flagrum had one handle with multiple lashes on the end. It is often called the “cat of nine tails.” However, the difference in the “cat” and the flagrum is the flagrum had barbs, bones, and/or shards of glass on the end of each whip. The cat is less brutal with smooth or knotted lashes. Each blow of the flagrum would have torn at Jesus’ flesh and muscle fibers. Jesus received 39 such blows from the Roman flagrum, and this was before the crucifixion.
Such scourging would have caused profuse bleeding from Jesus’ body. When the Roman soldiers placed the robe on Jesus, it would have created a temporary bandage for the wounds on His back. However, the robe was then ripped off, peeling the scabs that were beginning to form along with more flesh from His body. And this was before the crucifixion.
Next, Jesus was made to carry His cross (most likely just the crossbeam) to Golgotha. The distance from the place of the scourging to Golgotha (the hill of the crucifixion scene) is believed to be about 650 yards, or 6.5 football fields in length. The cross beam would have been approximately 100 lbs of solid wood. Imagine Jesus being made to carry that weight for that length after the beating He’d just received. Imagine the amount of blood He’s lost and is still losing at this point…before the crucifixion.
The crucifixion. Not much needs to be said on just how horrible the crucifixion was on the body. For sake of brevity you can read this PDF from The Journal of the American Medical Association on the details of the crucifixion.
The PDF also includes the spear through Jesus’ side that, by evidence of description, went into His heart. Needless to say the Romans were expert killers and would not have easily mistaken an alive man as being dead as it would have likely meant their life for Jesus’ if they were wrong.
Jesus body was wrapped in burial clothes. When scripture tells us that Jesus called out Lazarus from the dead, He didn’t tell Lazarus to undress himself from his grave wrappings. He knew that others had to undress him. Yet people who hold to the swoon theory would have to believe that will all the trauma inflicted on Jesus’ body, and being in a tomb with no water or food for 3 days to regain His strength, He was able to unwrap Himself. This might be possible for God incarnate, but no mere human.
Jesus would have also have to have rolled the large sealed stone away by himself and sneaked past the Roman guards in His condition.
2. The Stolen Body (or Conspiracy) Theory- This argument states that the disciples stole Jesus to further their cause and give credibility to their Messiah.
Rebuttal: In Matthew 28:11-13, the guards were bribed into saying that the disciples stole the body during the night. But why would they have to be bribed to say that? Why couldn’t they just say it if it were true? Because they knew it wasn’t true. To say that the body was stolen on their watch would have also meant that 1) they were overpowered or 2) they were asleep. If they were overpowered they could have said so, but this presents a problem that I’ll bring up later. If the soldiers fell asleep, they wouldn’t have been paid with a bribe; they would have paid with their lives. This was the case in Acts 12 when the Angel helped Peter escape from jail.
Also, the disciples began to die preaching a resurrected Christ. With Stephen being the first martyr in the Book of Acts, it only makes sense that they would have produced the body to avoid their own deaths. Some people have even argued that, as afraid as they were (Peter, the boldest disciple, denied Jesus 3 times from fear and the other disciples hid in fear), then someone might have produced some other body and claimed it was Jesus to make the persecution stop. But they couldn’t. Jesus had risen, and they knew it.
3. The Hallucination Theory- This theory says that because the disciples were so eager to believe in a risen Savior, they were hallucinating when they saw Jesus.
Rebuttal: One problem with this theory is that the disciples weren’t expecting a risen Jesus. They didn’t understand what He meant when He foretold of His resurrection. Thomas even doubted that He had risen when he was told. Yet, so many people witnessed the risen Jesus on several different occasions, it’s highly unlikely that hallucinations are to blame.
Another problem with this theory is that Jesus was actually touched post resurrection (Matthew 28:9).
Also, followers like Thomas who doubted Jesus had risen, and nonbelievers like James and Paul, who ended up being converted after a post-resurrection encounter, all stand as proof of Jesus rising from the dead. Oh yeah, there’s 500 others who saw the resurrected Jesus, also. That’s why it makes no sense to argue that the soldiers guarding the tomb were overpowered by people who sought to steal the body.
It must also be noted that the first response to news of the empty tomb was not a joyful “He rose like He said He would!” Rather, Jesus’ own disciples became suspicious. They said that the women who first witnessed the empty tomb and spoke with the angel, we’re speaking nonsense (Luke 24:11). And lastly, they thought someone moved Jesus’ body (John 20:2,15).
Finally, hallucinations last for short moments, seconds to minutes at a time. If the resurrected Jesus was just a hallucination, it lasted for 40 days!
4. The Argument from Low Probability- One of the most common arguments I’ve heard is that history isn’t based on events of low probability. “People can’t rise from the dead, therefore Jesus couldn’t rise from the dead.” Lawrence Shapiro professor in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, states “…we’d say that the ‘base rate’ for rising from the dead appears to be small indeed: one in several billion, at best, I should think.”
Rebuttal: What people really mean is that they don’t believe in miracles, or, “Based on my naturalistic worldview, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead.” However, this same worldview makes the highly improbable claim that life evolved from non-life and that these elements came from nothing. Regarding the probability of life evolving from non-life, “The probability of [a self replicating peptide] forming randomly, in sequential trials, is approximately 1 in 1040” In his interview with Lee Strobel, Dr. Stephen Meyer claims that “The probabilities of forming a rather short functional protein at random would be one chance in a hundred thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. That’s a 10 with 125 zeros after it!”
As we can see the odds for the resurrection are exponentially better than what we are being taught concerning the origins of life from a naturalistic worldview. They say the resurrection is unbelievable because it’s a miracle yet they push the idea that life came from non-life which would be a far greater miracle!
After Lee Strobel examined the evidence for the Resurrection he turned from his atheism. “In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised any such thing. Indeed, following him would inevitably bring divine demotions in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.”
The evidences are overwhelming for the Resurrection. It is arguably the single most significant event in all of human history. No other prophet, priest, or king that died is alive again. Only the God-man Jesus Christ had the power to conquer death and the grave. Because of this fact we can have hope that death is not the end. That our bodies in all their frailties will be glorified and we will no longer be bound by sickness and decay. Believe on the One who made this possible. The Bible calls Jesus the firstborn from the dead, meaning all who believe in Him will follow this example.
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” -Jesus