Understanding Christians

Question from Kage:
So what exactly is a Christian, and why do they believe that someone died, and somehow managed to raise himself from the dead and all? Is there a reason they believe this? Any evidence at all? Any contrary?

Answer by SmartLX:
Christians are followers of Jesus Christ, as the name suggests. Some self-proclaimed Christians don’t let this affect their daily life very much, to the point where being a “follower” of Jesus Christ means no more than being a “follower” of someone on Twitter. Still, Jesus is their central figure.

Trinitarian dogma varies between denominations, but since a common belief is that Jesus was not just the son of God but God himself, it’s fair to say many Christians do believe he raised himself from the dead.

The reasons why Christians believe this is often different from the reasons they give others to believe it. For most, they believe it simply because they were taught it from a very young age. For some, they’ve had a “religious experience” and think they’ve seen the risen Jesus first-hand.

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is entirely document-based. The Bible states that it happened, and some other sources mention it (though there are no contemporary accounts), and people simply argue for accepting the fact based on this. That gets you into long discussions about scriptural reliability and fulfilled prophecies. If you search this site for Jesus and/or the resurrection, you’ll find a lot of this kind of thing.

The only thing which might count as evidence against the resurrection is the lack of evidence for the resurrection, but it depends on how much evidence you would expect there to be.

It All Comes Back To Jesus

Question from Tim:
Thanks a lot for the website! If you guys are too busy to respond I understand.
Last year I finally managed to leave Christianity, but still have a few nagging doubts that I have been trying to resolve for some time now. My uncle told me that if I look at the evidence, I will see that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. While I do doubt this, it is something that I feel like I need to learn about and take seriously. Do you know where I can find some resources addressing the resurrection from either an atheistic or neutral viewpoint? All I have managed to find so far are Christian ones.

Answer by SmartLX:
Don’t worry, we’d have to be a LOT busier not to be able to respond to every question we get.

This area of Christian apologetics is huge, as you’ll have seen by the sheer number of books specifically pushing it. It’s also a real sore point for believers when anyone questions even the divinity of Jesus, let alone his existence. That’s understandable since the whole of Christian doctrine hangs on the story of one man, and in the absence of physical evidence for that man the only traces of him are ancient documents.

There are a couple of starting points for you right here. My two long discussions in the comments of posts #271 and #574 with Rob (alias RP) cover a lot of ground and may suggest avenues of research. Post #271 itself contains links to earlier pieces of mine on specific documents and arguments.

As for things not on this site, the best-known critic of the New Testament and related documents is probably Bart Ehrman, so try one of his books. (He’s struck a nerve, because there are sites dedicated to answering everything he’s said.) A separate, highly-recommended book which challenges everything about Jesus is The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty. Online, Jeffrey Jay Lowder has published a set of comprehensive responses to a wide selection from the apologetic arsenal, including William Lane Craig’s “empty tomb” argument and the entirety of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

YouTube is of course a treasure trove of individuals arguing both ways (Ehrman and Craig have many recorded debates on the subject, separately and together), but there you can also find one piece of work which prompted plenty of discussion when it came out: the independently produced documentary The God Who Wasn’t There. (It’s by the same group who debated Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron on Nightline).

I hope the above gets you started, but don’t take anything you find as gospel, so to speak. Any significant point that’s been made in opposition to the divinity or resurrection of Jesus has been answered (how well it’s been answered is always debatable) by apologists as a matter of principle. This means that if you read a major point, you can find major discussions to go with it.

Go get stuck in, and let us know how you do.

The women at the tomb, and other conundrums

Question from Mr Brown:
This isn’t so much an atheist question but a question concerning the validity, or lack there of, of the resurrection.
In Matthew 27:65-66 the author tells us how several women who went to Yeshua’s (Jesus) tomb to anoint his body with spices after he was crucified.
My first question is how did two women (three in the gospel of Mark) plan on unsealing a sealed tomb guarded by Roman guards and sealed by a large stone tomb?
Second question: Why didn’t his disciples go to anoint his body, particularly his brothers James and his twin Jude?
Third question: After Jesus’ resurrection in Luke 24:36 Jesus is able to walk through walls (appear in sealed rooms John 20:19) why was there a need to roll the stone from his tomb?

One last question not concerning the resurrection.
If the accounts of Jesus are true how could both his family and disciples doubt he was the messiah after seeing, people brought back to life, angels, the ability to control nature, healing the blind, terminally ill, crippled, and other unearthly phenomena?

Answer by SmartLX:
The thing about asking obvious questions about the resurrection story is that people have had two thousand years to plug holes in the narrative through re-translation, re-interpretation or plain old guesswork. Of course, if you assume temporarily that certain parts of the story were true and others weren’t, other reasons practically suggest themselves.

– When the women set out to anoint Jesus, they might not have known about the stone. They would probably have expected the guards to let them access the body, as long as they didn’t try to steal it. (As it happened in the story, the women were left alone with the open tomb after the tremor, and the Romans hadn’t checked inside, so if the body were still there that would have been a great time to move it.)
– Perhaps anointing was women’s work (it certainly didn’t take a holy man, or the women wouldn’t even have tried) or the eleven remaining disciples were too afraid of their own disillusioned followers to go near the place. (They didn’t yet have the resurrection story to redeem themselves in the eyes of true believers, and avoid getting lynched.)
– Apologists get a great deal of mileage out of the mere existence of the Empty Tomb (assuming that even that existed). If the stone hadn’t been moved, the tomb might not have been found empty – and without prior knowledge of an empty tomb, appearances of Jesus might have had less impact. (To view it more cynically, if the stone hadn’t been moved it wouldn’t have been possible for anyone besides an undead Jesus to empty the tomb.)
– You’ve got me on that last one. I haven’t heard a good reason why Jesus’ prior miracles seemed to account for so little if they actually happened.

Look, if I don’t tell you, someone else will: you’re asking the wrong guy if you actually want to hear the accepted answers to these questions. Go ask some Christians. (Better yet, see how many different rationalisations you can collect from different Christians.)