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Debunking Christian Circular Arguments and Assumptions

Argument # 7: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Argument.


Jesus’ Resurrection is one of the most feel-good statements of faith that Christians use to try to separate their religion from the rest.  This is especially true on Easter Sunday, which commemorates the Resurrection.  The argument goes like this:


“Jesus was crucified and killed on Friday.  But he rose from the dead Sunday morning and appeared to his disciples.  This proved that he was who he claimed to be – the Savior of the world, God in flesh, and that his claim that your eternal destiny depends on him to be true.  No other religious leader or messiah has done this.  Mohammed, Buddha and Confucius are still in the grave, but Jesus’ tomb is empty.  That’s what sets him apart from the rest.  This proves that Jesus is the real messiah and that he is the only true way to God.  Only God could have performed such a feat.”


To try to back this up, the Christians have a set of circular arguments to try to prove that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and it is the only conclusion one can draw from the events in the Gospels.  We will get into that in the next few sections after this one.


But first, let’s look at the straight facts here.  There are more problems, discrepancies, and lack of evidence regarding this alleged event, than the devout Christians can imagine! 


First of all, what the church doesn't tell you is that outside of the New Testament, there are NO historical documents from the era that say that Jesus rose from the dead. Not even one. Even the most knowledgeable Christian apologist or scholar will reluctantly admit this.  In addition, even more damaging is the fact that outside of the New Testament, none of the historians of the time during the period Jesus supposedly lived (approximately 0 AD - 33 AD) even mention the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not in any of their writings, accounts, or reports. That is a tremendous blow to the Christian religion. Christian apologists though, try to cite historians of a later era such as Josephus or Tacitus.  However, those historians lived long after Jesus’ time and were reporting on rumors and stories they heard. Also, some scholars think that the writings of Josephus referring to Jesus are an interpolation for many reasons, which you can read about here Did Jesus Christ Really Live?


Second, believers will tell you that the apostle Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians 15:16 that there were five hundred people who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus.  However, there is a difference between one person claiming that there were five hundred witnesses and five hundred witnesses themselves claiming that they saw the resurrection.  Not one of these five hundred witnesses has ever been identified in any way.


Third, it’s very suspicious that after Jesus rose from the dead, he only appeared to his followers, and not to any of the non-believers, Romans, the Jewish leaders, or people who had no interest invested in his ministry.  Now think about this for a moment.  If the resurrection actually happened, and five hundred people saw it, it would have drawn such monumental attention that Pilate and the other Roman officials would have noted it, along with the Roman historians at the time!  And almost everyone around would have been converted!  However, we DON'T even have ONE historical document other than the New Testament, which itself was completed almost a century after Christ's existence, that validates the Resurrection!


Fourth, the Resurrection event that was described in the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were not even written until decades after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion.  Scholars and historians have different estimates of when the Gospels were written (with Christian scholars estimating the dates much closer to Jesus’ lifetime of course) but the earliest texts of those Gospels are nevertheless dated long after Jesus’ supposed life on Earth.  In fact, those four Gospels weren't even mentioned by the Church Fathers until the Second Century A.D.!


For more in-depth analysis of the Resurrection claim, see The Historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection: The Debate between Christians and Skeptics by Jeffery Jay Lowder and Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story by Richard Carrier.


To hear from both sides of this issue, see these transcripts of debates between well versed apologists and skeptics on the historicity of the Resurrection.


The Barker-Horner Debate: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? (1996)


The Geisler-Till Debate (1994)


Horner-Till Debate (1995)



Arguments for the Historicity of the Resurrection


Now, Christian apologists and evangelists have a series of circular arguments to try to prove that the Resurrection of Jesus happened and is a historical fact.  Christian author Josh McDowell for instance, is well known among Christians for these kind of arguments he elaborates on in his books such as “Evidence That Demands A Verdict” and “More Than A Carpenter”.  Other authors such as C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia series) and many others use the same line of arguments in their books and literature.  Let’s look at some of them.


The empty tomb argument


This Christian argument states that since Jesus’ tomb was empty on Sunday morning as described in the Gospels, we must therefore consider all the explanations for it being empty.  The possible explanations are 1)  Jesus didn’t die on the cross.  Having survived, he escaped from the tomb, 2) Thieves stole Jesus’ body, 3) Jesus’ disciplines came and stole his body, 4) Jesus rose from the dead, moved the stone, made the guard go to sleep, etc. as the Gospels describe.


Christians argue that the 1st explanation is ruled out because a) medically speaking, the wounds Jesus was inflicted with were too brutal for anyone with a human body to have survived, b) Jesus was pierced in the side by a spear from a Roman guard, which would have caused too much damage and loss of blood for him to have survived, c) Even if Jesus was still alive after the crucifixion, he would have been too weak to have moved the huge stone that covered the entrance to his tomb, nevertheless get past the Roman guard on post to protect the tomb from robbers.


The consider the 2nd and 3rd explanations to also be ruled out, because a) the Roman guard stationed at the tomb to protect it from robbers would not have fallen asleep because in those days, they would be executed for such a failure, and b) it would take too much force to move the large stone covering the tomb entrance anyway.


Therefore, they conclude that the 4th explanation is the only possible one, that Jesus rose from the dead, used his divine powers to roll back the stone and cause the guard to go to sleep, and appeared to his disciples.  How convenient.


The problem with all this, again, is that it assumes that the events described in the Gospels are historical facts.  Any unbiased historian will tell you that the Gospels were written with an agenda to preach the good news to people in order to convert the masses.  Therefore, we have zero evidence that any of the events surround the Resurrection even took place as described. 


In fact, I could use the same arguments above in a similar manner to attempt to prove certain things about Superman as well.


Christian Argument # 1:

Jesus was born of a virgin.  Therefore he must have been divine, because no ordinary human could have been born of a virgin.




Superman Argument # 1:

As a baby, Superman was sent to Earth in a meteor shaped rocket ship.  Nothing of this world could have designed a ship like that that could travel for so many light years.  Therefore, he must have truly been of extraterrestrial origin!


Christian Argument # 2:

During Jesus' ministry, he performed supernatural miracles such as feeding the three thousand, healing the sick, and walking over water.  These miracles can only be done by someone divine.




Superman Argument # 2:

During Superman's life, he can go faster than a speeding bullet, is more powerful than a locomotive, and leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  These superhuman feats can only be done by someone from out of this world!


Christian Argument # 3:

The people around Jesus were witnesses to all the miracles and supernatural feats he did.  There were also witnesses to his resurrection as well.




Superman Argument # 3:

When Superman saves lives in Metropolis and around the world, there are usually plenty of witnesses and reporters who witness and capture on film his amazing rescues with his amazing powers.


For an in-depth analysis of the empty tomb argument, see Craig's Empty Tomb and Habermas on Visions by Richard Carrier.


The “Apostles would not knowingly die for a lie” argument


Then they go on to say that since the Apostles and disciples of Christ were so fervent in their faith and ministry that they were even willing to die for it, and many of them eventually did, that they must have personally witnessed the Resurrection themselves to be preaching it in their ministry to the world that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave.  After all, they claim, no one would knowingly die for something they know to be a lie.  And the fact that they were willing to die and become martyrs for the Gospel of Christ proves that the Resurrection must have happened.


Again, this assumes that everything described in the New Testament are true accounts.  We simply have no basis for assuming that, especially when the books of the NT were written long after Jesus and his disciples supposedly lived.  And neither do we have any evidence either, that the disciples died for their faith and became martyrs.  There simply is no confirmation of that.  I could take any fictional story to draw conclusions in the same manner as these apologists do.


For more analyses on this issue, see Why Did the Apostles Die? and How Did the Apostles Die?  For some short rants purporting that the Apostles were made up, see


Furthermore, the popular legend among Christians that the first century Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire and thrown to the lions has very weak historical evidence to support it.  Other than the brief period when Emperor Nero targeted and persecuted the Christians, using them as a scapegoat to blame the burning of Rome on to divert suspicion from himself, there was no systematic persecution of Christians by the Romans in most of their early history.  In fact, many records and accounts show that the Romans were extremely tolerant of Christians and their beliefs, although they saw them as strange and unsociable. (Unlike the Chrsitian inquisitors of the Medieval and Renaissance era who actively persecuted and executed mass people, often based on rumors or anonymous accusations.)


However, for some reason, the Christians at the time wanted martyrdom, and went to great lengths to get it.  They even went so far as to insult the other pagan gods and religions of the time by calling them demons and devils, and their followers “devil worshippers”.  They (the Christians) were the ones who were intolerant of other beliefs, and actively offended many.  In fact, they are recorded as being eager to be sentenced by the law, although the Romans tried to use any legal means to avoid it.  Paul Tobin of The Skeptic’s Guide to Christianity, writes:

“In fact, more often than not, the Roman judges used every legal means at their disposal to avoid punishing the Christians. But the Christians, in the morbid need for the reward of martyrdom, more often than not insisted on being sentenced. As an example, take the incident in North Africa around the year 180 where twelve people (nine men and three women) were accused of being Christians. The proconsul Saturninus, who heard the case, pleaded with them to save their own lives:

If you return to your sense you can obtain pardon of our Lord the emperor ... We too are a religious people, and our religion is a simple one: We swear by the divine spirit of our lord the emperor and offer prayers to his health - as you ought to do.

The accused men were indignant and refused to do so. Saturninus, in a last ditch effort, gave them thirty days to think things over. After that time, they still refused to budge. The proconsul had no choice but to have them executed. Upon receiving the death sentence some of them yelled out: "We thank God!", "Today we are martyrs in heaven, thanks be to God!" [11]

Not only do these Christians zealously demanded execution upon trail, some of them, hard put to find someone to accuse them, went to the tribunal of magistrates, declared themselves Christians and demanded the sentence of the law. We have testimony of earlier the church father Tertullian (c160-c225) of one such case in a small Asiatic town. The whole Christian population of that town, seeking death and martyrdom, went to the proconsul Antoninus to demand punishment. Unable to comprehend such an attitude, Antoninus told the Christians: "Unhappy men! Unhappy men! If you are thus weary of your lives, is it so difficult for you to find ropes and precipices?" Of course, suicide doesn't count for martyrdom, so the crowd insisted on punishment. Antoninus relented, put a few to death and dismissed the others. [12]

Capital punishment was not invariably applied in all cases. Some Roman judges used other legal methods to avoid it. They contented themselves to sentencing the Christians to prison, exile or slavery. This allowed the Christians some chance of freedom as the emperor might, during a period of celebration, offer a general pardon to the prisoners. [13]


11.ibid: p97-98

12.Knight, Honest to Man: p61
Gibbon, Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire: p215
Robertson, History of Christianity: p81

13.Gibbon, Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire: p210”

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