Archive for March, 2007

The Genesis of Religion

March 29th, 2007

Religion is a unique force in most contemporary societies. It motivates individuals to do both good and evil. Historically, it has promoted an end to slavery, racial integration, equal political rights for women, and equal rights for various minorities.

It has motivated individuals to create massive support services for the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the broken.

Conversely, it has been used to justify slavery, racial segregation, and oppression of women, discrimination against and extermination of minorities, genocide, and other horrendous evil.

Religion motivates many to dedicate their lives to help the poor and needy. Amongst those are people such as Ghandi, Schweitzer, and Mother Teresa. It drives others to exterminate as many “heretics” as they can. Consider the mass murders and genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, East Timor, Indonesia, India, Kosovo, The Middle East, Northern Ireland, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tibet, and the list goes on and on.

Religion has the capacity to generate unselfish love in some people, and vicious, raw hatred in others.

Some two million years ago, somewhere in Africa, so the Anthropologists tell us, a species of proto-humans evolved, from whom Homo sapiens emerged. If this theory is correct we are all then, descended from Africans.

These proto-humans walked upright, and had an opposing thumb and little finger allowing for greater manual dexterity. Their brain represented a major advance over those of previous humanoids in terms of its intellectual suppleness and its ability to reason. This gave proto-humans an improved facility to develop structured societies, and to pass on their accumulated knowledge to their descendants.

These developing abilities presented embryonic mankind with a double-edge sword; on the one hand, they aided their chances of surviving in a cruel and unpredictable world and they helped each successive generation of proto-humans to build on the knowledge-base created by their forebears.

This increased mental ability led to a terrifying piece of knowledge – personal mortality. For the first time, individuals on earth became aware that life was transient and they would die at some point in the future. This knowledge produced an intolerable emotional drain on their psychological make-up.

During this evolution from proto-human to full human, they developed questions about themselves and their environment:

  • Where did we come from?
  • What controlled the seasonal cycles of nature – the daily motion of the sun; the motion of the stars, the passing of the seasons, etc?
  • What controlled their environment – who or what caused floods, rains, dry spells, storms, etc?
  • What do we do to appease the angry gods?
  • What controls fertility of the tribe, its domesticated animals, and its crops?
  • What system of morality is needed to best promote the stability of the tribe?
  • And above all: what happens after they die?

Living in a pre-scientific society, people had no way of resolving these questions so they invented a panoply of gods and goddesses to explain that which they couldn’t explain by scientific means. Even today, with all of our scientific advances, we still debate about questions of morality, and still have no way of reaching a consensus on what happens when we die. But the need for answers particularly what happens after we die, were so important that some response was required, even if they were merely based on hunches.

Some people within the tribe started to invent answers based on their personal speculation. As a consequence there developed the first religious belief system, the first set of rituals to appease the goddess and other rituals to control fertility and other aspects of the environment, a set of behavioural expectations for members of the tribe, and a set of moral “truths” to govern human behaviour.

Of course what was now needed was someone who understood all this, so the first priesthood was established. (The use of the word priesthood is to be understood in a generic sense, representative of priests of the mysteries, Isis, pagans, and such other forms such as witch doctors, shamans, oracles etc).

These considerations then formed the basis of oral traditions that was disseminated among the members of the tribe, usually by a shaman or priest of some kind, and was taught to upcoming generations. Much later, when writing was developed, the beliefs were commonly recorded in written form that resulted in a major loss of interpretive flexibility because only the educated elite could read and write. Oral traditions can evolve over time; written documents tend to be more permanent, and the information contained within these documents – controlled.

Because these belief systems were based on speculation, the various religions that developed in different areas of the world were all dissimilar. Their teachings were in many cases in conflict with each other. For the reason that the followers of most religions considered their beliefs to be derived directly from God(s) they cannot be easily changed. Thus, inter-religious compromise is difficult or impossible. Also, because religious texts are often ambiguous, divisions developed within religions. Different denominations, schools, or traditions have derived different meanings from the same religious texts. Thus were laid the foundations for millennia of inter-religious and intra-religious conflict.

The first organised religions seem to have been based on fertility rites. They were focused on the worship of the great earth goddess. Religion later evolved to include male gods who were gradually given increased importance by the religious establishment. Developing knowledge of the male’s involvement in the process of reproduction may have created a monotheistic religion, in which a single male god is worshiped, or a henotheistic religion – a religion which recognises a single main deity, but which recognises other gods and goddesses, heroes, or saints as facets or manifestations or aspects of that supreme god.

Most religions teach that they were directly revealed by their deity/deities to humanity, and are unrelated to other world religions. However there is considerable historical evidence from antiquity that religions in the area from India to the Middle East shared many similar religious beliefs. One example of this is the many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, which contain concepts, or passages taken from Egyptian, Babylonian and other nearby pagan religions. Many of the events in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) imitate earlier Hindu and Pagan religious sources.

To many conservative Christians this is ridiculous; it is not even worth investigating: It’s blasphemy! They view their English translations of the gospels, and the rest of the Bible for that matter, as very different from ordinary books. They believe that nothing in the gospels came from pagan sources.  The gospels are inerrant, the inspired Word of God. They describe Jesus’ life, from his conception to ascension to heaven accurately as it unfolded from four BCE to thirty CE.

There certainly were beliefs about Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other Pagan heroes, saviours and god-men circulating in first century Palestine.

However, material in the gospels could not have come from those sources, they say. God “inspired” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in their writing, preventing them from making any errors! The incorporation of pagan legends would not have been possible. Any points of similarities between Jesus’ life and those of the heroes, saviours and god-men of other religions must have resulted from other influences such as:

  • Simple coincidence,
  • The influence of Satan,
  • Forgeries,
  • Premonitions,
  • Other religions copying Christianity,

to mention a few.

However, to many liberal Christians and Past-Christians, the question is undeniably worth studying. Many pagan religious belief systems permeated the Mediterranean region in the first century. There were various male heroes, saviours and god-men within Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Hindu, and other pantheons of Gods whose lives had many points of similarities to Jesus. In order to compete with those religions, incipient Christianity would have had to describe Jesus in terms that matched or surpassed the myths, stories and legends so the Redactors of the gospels picked up themes from other sources and added them to their writings in order to make Christianity more credible to a pagan, largely Greek world.

We can by peeling away the foreign material attached to or inserted into the original gospels, get a clearer picture of what Jesus taught and how he lived. By stripping away these accretions that have become attached to the life story and to the teachings of Jesus, we can get closer to the historical Jesus and understand his mission.

The paganisation of Jesus of Nazareth and that of his mother, Mary, has been examined by M.L. Allen in a number of publications of the AFSP, “Rescuing Jesus of Nazareth from the Christians”, and “Rescuing Mary from the Romans”, “Debunking Dodgy Doctrine and Ecclesiastic Double Talk”. Who inserted into the Biblical canon these myths, these accretions, is unknown, but it happened sometime between the early second century and fourth century CE. If one were to have a guess, the blame would be attached to those early “church fathers” who came out of paganism and entered into the new world of “Christianity” bringing their enculturated belief systems with them.

Religions were originally based on the particular beliefs of their founders and prophets.  Thus, there were few points of similarity among the various spiritual paths: In terms of their belief about a supernatural being, various faith traditions have taught Agnosticism, Animism, Atheism, Deism, Duotheism, Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism, Panentheism, Pantheism, Polytheism, Trinitarianism, and many more. It is obvious from these conflicting ideas about deities that almost all religions are just plain wrong, except at the most, one, which cannot be determined anyway – for the simple reason you cannot have conflicting ideas about a subject and all be right. All can be wrong, but only one can be right. Choose well!


What Is The Evidence That A Dead Man Resurrected?

March 29th, 2007

Christianity is only one of numerous religions who throughout history have declared their saviour or demigod resurrected from the grave.  One of the common themes since time immemorial and embedded in the over-abundance of religions is that of a deity who escapes the hold of death.  We can develop this theme even further because the claim of a divine saviour who is born of a virgin birth, suffers a brutal death, and ascends to heaven was common amongst the pagan and Gnostic religions of antiquity.

Roman Empire mythologies contained widespread beliefs that notable mortals and god-men were born of virgins and returned from the dead: accounts such as that of Romulus, Apollonius of Tyana, Drusilla, Claudius, Dionysus-Bacchus, Tammuz-Adonis, Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, and Buddha.
The belief in Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of Christianity, therefore what is the evidence for the belief that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the grave?

There is not one contemporaneous historian who mentions one word about the resurrection!  The entire claim hangs exclusively on the New Testament texts. Moreover, it was the gentile Greek speaking creators and defenders of Christianity who wrote and promoted the stories of the resurrection some 30 to 60 years after Jesus’ death. Their testimony must therefore be examined more carefully. Is this testimony reliable?

The resurrection narratives in the Gospels may be convincing testimony for people who have not read them very carefully. The stories told in the New Testament, and the passion narratives in particular, are so inconsistent, that the “Jesus was physically resurrection from the grave” story disintegrates under careful analysis. The conflicting testimonies of the evangelists are so unreliable; they would not stand up to significant cross-examination in any court of law.  In fact, there is effectively not one detail of the crucifixion and resurrection accounts upon which all four Gospel authors agree.  Yet, it is upon this story that the entire Christian religion is based.

 “Belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith. It is the Christian faith”. George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

“Jesus…was…placed into a common grave, and covered over…in a very short time only some unmarked bones remained. Even the bones were gone before too long. Nature rather efficiently reclaims its own resources”. Bishop John S. Spong (Ret), “Resurrection. Myth or Reality?”

“The apostolic faith of the Church is based on the authenticity of the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul says. ‘Now if the anointed one of God is proclaimed as raised from the death, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then anointed one of God has not been raised, and if anointed one of God has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain.’ (1 Cor. 15.12-14) Viewed as the ultimate victory over the powers of sin and death, the resurrection of the Jesus is not only an historical event but also the sign of God’s power over all the forces, which can keep us from his love and goodness. It is a victory not only for the anointed one of God himself but also for all those united with him (1 Pet. 1.3f). It is a victory, which marks the beginning of a new era (Jn 20.17). The resurrection is the ultimate expression of the Father’s gift of reconciliation and unity in God’s anointed through the Spirit. It is a sign of the unity and reconciliation which God wills for the entire creation”. Statement of the World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997.

For almost two millennia, the Christian Church has taught that Jesus was crucified, died, and was bodily resurrected (i.e. returned to life in his original body) three days later. This has long been one of the church’s foundational beliefs, along with the inerrancy of the Bible, the miraculous incarnation, the atonement, original sin, Trinitarian formulations, the second coming of Jesus, etc. Many Christians regard belief in the resurrection as the central belief of the Church.

Once again we quote George Cary, who was at the centre of a media storm over the resurrection:

Cary was quoted as saying. “While we can be absolutely sure that Jesus lived and that he was certainly crucified on the cross, we cannot with the same certainty say that we know he was raised by God from the dead”.

British Conservative Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe said that if the Archbishop “in any way leaves the Resurrection open to doubt, then that is the ultimate betrayal”.

Archbishop Cary commented later that he had been misquoted. He had actually said that there is enough historical evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus lived; however there is not the same amount of evidence that he was resurrected.

Details of the death and resurrection of Jesus are described in the following Gospel passages.

  • Mark 15.33 to 16.8. (Verses 16.9 to 16.20 are second century CE insertions into the text)
  • Matthew 27.52 to 28.20
  • Luke 23.44 to 24.12
  • John 19.29 to 20.18

By combining the various gospels’ accounts Jesus’ death and resurrection; one can develop a common story that is consistent with most of the Biblical texts. Simon from Cyrene was pressed into service to carry the cross from Jerusalem to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion. There, Jesus was offered a drink of wine mixed with a bitter substance. He refused. He was nailed to the cross through his palms and feet. Two robbers were crucified with him – one on either side. People passing by hurled insults. From the sixth to the ninth hour the sky was darkened. Jesus cried out. He was offered vinegar to drink. He cried out again and died.

The gospels record different final messages. The veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom by an unknown force. Joseph of Arimathea obtained permission to take Jesus’ body to his private tomb. He wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth, placed it in the tomb and sealed the entrance. On Sunday morning, an unknown number of women came to the tomb. The stone had been rolled away. They found that Jesus’ body was missing. But not all of the gospels totally agree with this story.

Some Questions For The Proponents Of New Testament Inerrancy

Who carried the cross to the place of execution?

  • Mark: Simon
  • Matthew: Simon
  • Luke: Simon
  • John: Jesus

What was the sign over Jesus’ head on the cross?

  • Mark. “The King of the Jews”
  • Matthew. “This Is Jesus, the King of the Jews”
  • Luke. “This Is the King of the Jews”
  • John. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” in Aramaic, Latin and Greek

What did the robbers say to Jesus?

  • Mark. They both hurled insults
  • Matthew. Same as Mark
  • Luke. One hurled insults; the other said that Jesus’ execution was unjust because he was not guilty of any crime
  • John. Nothing was recorded

What were Jesus’ last words?

  • Mark. Jesus “cried out”, but the words (if any) were not recorded
  • Matthew. Same as Mark
  • Luke. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.
  • John. “It is finished”.

Who went to the tomb with spices to prepare Jesus’ body?

  • Mark. Three women on Sunday morning just after sunrise
  • Matthew. No record
  • Luke. Four or more women on Sunday morning very early in the morning, presumably while dark
  • John. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on Friday before sundown

Who visited the tomb on Sunday with Mary Magdalene?

  • Mark. Two women. Salome and Mary the mother of James
  • Matthew. One woman. “The other Mary”
  • Luke. Three or more women. Mary the mother of James, Joanna and at least one other woman
  • John. None; she went alone

When did she/they visit the tomb on Sunday?

  • Mark. Just after sunrise
  • Matthew. At dawn
  • Luke. Very early in the morning, presumably while it was still dark
  • John. While it was still dark

What happened to the rock that sealed the tomb?

  • Mark. The stone had already been rolled back before they arrived
  • Matthew. An earthquake happened; an angel appeared and rolled it away as the women approached the tomb.
  • Luke. Same as Mark
  • John. Same as Mark

Who did she/they find at the tomb?

  • Mark. A young man dressed in a white robe was inside the tomb
  • Matthew. An angel sitting on the rock outside the tomb
  • Luke. Two men were inside the tomb, dressed in clothes that looked like lightning
  • John. Nobody

Where was Jesus at the time?

  • Mark. Not at the tomb; he was on his way to Galilee
  • Matthew. Same as Mark
  • Luke. Unknown
  • John. Unknown

Did she/they enter the tomb?

  • Mark. Yes
  • Matthew. Yes. They were invited by the angel to “come see the place where he lay”
  • Luke. Yes
  • John. No

How did she/they react to the news?

  • Mark. They fled, trembling and bewildered
  • Matthew. They fled, fearful and joyous
  • Luke. They left
  • John. She ran to Simon Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved

Who did she/they see on the way to the disciples?

  • Mark. Nobody
  • Matthew. They met Jesus, who they immediately recognised
  • Luke. Nobody
  • John. Nobody

How did the disciples react to the news?

  • Mark. They didn’t; the woman told nobody of the news because they were afraid.
  • Matthew. They believed the women.
  • Luke. The disciples and “all the others” didn’t believe the women. Peter ran to the tomb anyway.
  • John. They believed Mary.

Did the women/woman return to the tomb?

  • Mark. No record
  • Matthew. No record
  • Luke. No record
  • John. Yes. Mary saw two angels and Jesus there; but she thought that Jesus was the gardener

To whom did Jesus first appear?

  • Mark. To all the disciples somewhere in Galilee
  • Matthew. To Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they left the tomb to tell the brethren
  • Luke. To Cleopas and an unidentified person on a road between Jerusalem and Emmaus
  • John. To all the disciples in a house in Jerusalem
  • Paul. To Cephas. I Corinthians 15.5

The Bible talks about Jesus’ resurrection, and records that witnesses either learned that Jesus had risen, or observed Jesus alive after his resurrection. These included.

  • 1st Corinthians 15.6. First to Cephas, then to the twelve, more than 500 followers, James and then to all of the apostles, and lastly to Paul. The location(s) are not mentioned. NB: 1st Corinthians was written before any of the Gospels, therefore this verse is the first reference to the “raising of Jesus” in the New Testament. It is obvious that Paul was not speaking of a physical resurrection.
  • Mark 16. A man told three women. Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James that Jesus had risen.
  • Matthew 28. An angel told two women. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” that Jesus had risen. Later, they met Jesus near the tomb.
  • Luke 24. Four or more women. Mary the mother of James, Joanna and at least one other woman went to the tomb and found it empty. Two men told them that Jesus had risen.
  • John 20. Mary Magdalene, alone went to the tomb and was told by two angels that Jesus had risen. Later, she met Jesus, originally mistaking him for the gardener.
  • Luke 24.13-24. Jesus appeared to two of Jesus’ followers on the road to Emmaus.
  • Luke 24.36-43. Eleven apostles and the two from the road to Emmaus saw Jesus in Jerusalem. It was reported that Jesus had previously appeared to Peter, presumably alone.
  • John 20.19. Jesus appeared to 10 of the apostles – all except Thomas – in Jerusalem.
  • John 20.26. Jesus appeared to all of the apostles, in Jerusalem. See also Mark 16.14. (NB: Unfortunately any verse after Mark 16.8 is spurious)
  • John 21. Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee while the disciples were fishing.
  • Mark 16.19. (See above) The disciples watched while Jesus rose into the sky at Mount Olivet. See also Luke 24.50 and Acts 1.4.
  • Acts 9.3. The disembodied voice of Jesus appeared to Paul. See also 1 Corinthians 15.8.

There are numerous references in the Christian Scriptures to the resurrection of Jesus, in addition to the passages listed above. Many also confirm that Jesus reappeared after his death in a physical body. Twelve books in the King James Version of the New Testament contain the word “resurrection.”

  1. 1 Corinthians 4   -   Written 20/30 years after Jesus’ death.
  2. Romans 2   -   Written 20/30 years after Jesus’ death.
  3. Philippians 2  -   Written 20/30 years after Jesus’ death.
  4. Mark 2  -   Written 40/50 years after Jesus’ death.
  5. Matthew 5   -   Written 50/60 years after Jesus’ death
  6. Luke 5  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  7. John 4  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  8. Acts 10  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  9. 2 Timothy 1  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  10. Hebrews 2  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  11. 1 Peter 2  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.
  12. Revelations (2 references.)  -   Written 70/90 years after Jesus’ death.

NB: The Pastoral Epistles (1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus) were not written by Paul. They were written circa 100 to 120/150 CE by unknown authors assuming the identity of Paul. Identity theft was quite common and acceptable in ancient times.

I Corinthians 15.3-5. “…I Paul passed on to you…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred … then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all …he appeared also to me”.

1 Corinthians 15.12-23 is perhaps the most important linkage of Jesus’ resurrection to the later resurrection of all Christians. “Now if Jesus be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Jesus not risen? And if Jesus were not raised, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that “he raised up” Jesus. Whom he raised not up, if so is that the dead rise not? For if the dead rise not, then is not Jesus raised. And if Jesus were not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Jesus are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Jesus, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Jesus raised from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Jesus shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order. Jesus the first fruits, afterward they that are Jesus’ at his coming”. (1st Corinthians was written well before the Gospels came into existence)

I Timothy 3.16” “…was taken up in glory”.

Matthew 26.29. “…I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom”.

Luke 24.39. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have”.

Luke 24.46. “He told them, ‘this is what is written. The anointed one of Good will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…’“

John 20.27. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’“

John 21.12. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord”.

The Book of Acts, which is generally regarded as having the same author as the Gospel of Luke, contains many references to the resurrection. Acts 2.24-36; 3.15; 4.10, 4-33; 5.30; 10.40-41; 13.30-34; 17.32; 24.15; 25.19; 26.8, 26.23.

The Gospels record the beliefs and memories of various Christian groups as they had evolved at the time they were written.

God did not directly inspire the authors of the Bible. Instead, the writers composed text in support of their personal beliefs and those of their faith group. In particular, the Gospels contain various passages of religious myths that describe Christian traditions that were invented after Jesus’ death.

The New Testament is not inerrant. (Refer: “Not another Bloody History Of The New Testament”. A publication of the Australian Fellowship of Seven Planes) Many passages in the Gospels and Epistles of the Christian Scriptures contain religious propaganda, beliefs unique to the author and his/her faith group, words created by the authors and attributed to Jesus, stories of events that never happened, material picked up from surrounding pagan cultures, etc.

Liberal Christians compare Bible passages in the light of contemporary Jewish, pagan and non-canonical Christian writings. They also study the culture of the time and the beliefs of surrounding pagan societies. Of particular interest are the evolving beliefs of the followers of Jesus during the approximately seven to ten decades between the crucifixion and the completion of the last Gospel – John.

The story of having been wrapped in linen and anointed with myrrh seems to have been copied from the story of the death of Osiris -the Egyptian God of the earth, vegetation and grain.

The legend that he visited the underworld between his death and resurrection was simply copied from common pagan themes of surrounding cultures. One example again was Osiris. “With his original association to agriculture, his death and resurrection were seen as symbolic of the annual death and re-growth of the crops and the yearly flooding of the Nile”. They also believe that Paul regarded the raising up to be an act of God in which Jesus was a passive recipient of God’s power. Paul did not mention the empty tomb, the visit by a woman or women, the stone, the angel/angels/man/men at the tomb, and reunion of Jesus with his followers in his resuscitated body. Rather, he believed that Jesus was taken up into heaven in a spirit body. It was only later, from about 70 to 110 CE when the four canonical Gospels were written, that the Christians believed that Jesus rose from the grave in his original body, and by his own power. Later, perhaps after Paul’s death, there was great disappointment within the Christian communities because Jesus had not returned as expected. They diverted their focus of attention away from Jesus’ second coming. They studied his life and death more intensely.

The early church created legends without a historical basis; these included the empty tomb and described Jesus returning in his original body to eat and talk with his followers. In previous centuries, almost all Christians believed in miracles as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh). These included creation, the story of Adam and Eve, a talking serpent, the great flood of Noah, the drying up of the Red/Reed sea, a prophet riding on a talking ass, the sun stopping in the sky, etc. From the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), they believed in the virgin birth, the Christmas star, angels appearing to the shepherds, Jesus healing the sick, etc. Many, perhaps most, liberal Christians now believe that these stories are not to be interpreted literally as real events. Losing faith in the reality of these events has not damaged their faith. A growing number of liberals are now taking the final step by interpreting the stories of Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances to his followers and to Paul as other than real events.

Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong commented. “I do admit that for Christians to enter this subject honestly is to invite great anxiety. It is to walk the razor’s edge, to run the risk of cutting the final cord still binding many to the faith of their mothers and fathers. But the price for refusing to enter this consideration is for me even higher. The inability to question reveals that one has no confidence that one’s belief system will survive such an inquiry. That is a tacit recognition that on unconscious levels, one’s faith has already died. If one seeks to protect God from truth or new insights, then God has surely already died”. 

It is unfortunate that the Christian Scriptures are arranged in the order Matthew to Revelation as that places the gospels before the epistles of Paul. In fact the genuine epistles of Paul predated the gospels and Paul was the first to mention the “raising up” of Jesus.

Our interpretation of the resurrection story concludes that the earliest followers of Jesus knew nothing about the resurrection. His physical body rotted. The story of the tomb, its stone, the angels, men and women at the tomb, of Jesus meeting, talking and eating with his followers, etc are myths, a legend created by various Christian movements many decades after Jesus’ execution.

Paul’s message was that God raised Jesus from the dead and will do the same thing for others.

As stated above 1st Corinthians 15.3-8 is the first recorded reference to “the raising” up of Jesus. Paul used the phrase “he was raised” As Bishop Spong has written. “…To Paul, Jesus was not restored to life in his original body in order to walk around and talk to his followers. Rather, Jesus was raised from death into the presence of God in a spiritual body. As Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 15.50, Paul believed ‘…Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable’.

Paul at least in his writings appears totally unaware of the empty tomb, of the bodily resurrection, of the visitation by one or more women, and other details of the resurrection story as was written later in the gospels. It is also doubtful that other Christians knew the story at that time. It is probable that the account was created after Paul’s death. It is also doubtful that Jesus appeared to a crowd of more than 500. A dead man talking to a group would be such a miraculous event that word of it would spread very widely. The incident would have been recorded by other Christian authors and also by non-Christian historians of the time. No trace of the group of 500 exists.

A Closer Examination of Matthew 28: 1-10 and John 20: 1-18.

“After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come; see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, he has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

John 20:1-18
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.   So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’  She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’. When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?  For whom are you looking?’  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’. Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’  (Which means Teacher)? Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her”.

What is wrong with the two stories? If taken separately, the resurrection accounts presented by either Matthew or John appear viable. When read side by side, however, they fail because it would have been historically and chronologically impossible for both accounts to be true. In fact, the crucial events presented in these two Gospel narratives are so manifestly contradictory that even Liberal Christians, who often allow for occasional mistakes that appear in the New Testament, must take pause.

This brief study will examine several irresolvable contradictions in the variant Gospel accounts of the resurrection chronology as reported by the authors of Matthew and John. The following discrepancies, which we will now examine, have been selected because they cannot be ameliorated or explained away by such well-worn arguments as “each Gospel writer is giving us his own personal perspective”. Such a rationalisation becomes impossible because the above Gospel narratives are so irreconcilable that no explanation can account for the stark differences between them.

Matthew presents us with a post-resurrection story where the two Mary’s are greeted at the tomb by an angel who had just rolled away the stone from its entrance.  After revealing to both women the empty place where Jesus’ body once laid, the angel proclaims to them that Jesus had already risen from the dead.  The angel goes on to instruct both Mary’s that they are to tell the disciples that Jesus had gone before them to the Galilee to meet them. (Matthew 28:1-7)

If that encounter wasn’t convincing enough for the two women, Matthew continues to relate how, after leaving the tomb, both Mary’s unexpectedly meet the resurrected Jesus himself, whom they both worship. Jesus then essentially repeats the angel’s instructions to them, and sends the women to inform the disciples that they are to meet the resurrected Jesus in the Galilee. (Matthew 28:8-10)

Like Matthew’s account, John’s resurrection narrative also contains an empty tomb. However, that is where the similarities between the first and fourth Gospel end. In John’s version of the first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb, there is no angel there to greet her with information about Jesus’ whereabouts or instructions about a rendezvous in the Galilee as we find in Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:5-7). On the contrary, in John’s story, after Mary finds the empty tomb, she concludes that someone had removed the body from the grave.  Mary certainly had no reason to believe otherwise. She therefore quickly runs back to the disciples and reports, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!” (John 20:1-2)

The above account is entirely inconsistent with Matthew’s post-resurrection narrative.  Why didn’t Mary know that Jesus’ body was not laid anywhere?  In Matthew’s story, the angel had already reported to her that Jesus rose from the dead and had gone to the Galilee.  It would therefore have been ludicrous for her to think that someone had moved the body when the angels had already informed her that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred.  Likewise, if the angel’s instructions to her were not convincing enough, Matthew maintains that Mary also met the resurrected Jesus himself right after leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:9); and all this transpires before Mary ever sees the disciples.  Why then in John’s Gospel is Mary clueless as to where Jesus’ body was moved, when according to Matthew, Mary had already heard from two reliable sources – the angel at the tomb and Jesus himself – that Jesus rose from the dead?

Further contradicting Matthew’s post-resurrection account, John’s story lacks the Roman guards whom Matthew places at the tomb to prevent anyone from removing Jesus’ body. How could John’s Mary have thought that someone removed the body, when according to Matthew, Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb for the specific purpose of preventing just such an occurrence? Obviously, the author of the fourth Gospel has no need for Roman guards at the tomb, so in John’s crucifixion account they simply are not there.

This Gospel problem of the missing Roman soldiers in the Book of John raises another important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly been raised from the dead.

John’s account, however, completely nullifies this argument because according to his story line that is precisely what Mary thought had happened.  Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body, because, in John’s story, Matthew’s Roman guards do not exist.

To compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts even further, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus. As far as John’s Mary was concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it (John 20:11-13).

Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels say nothing about any resurrection. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary then inquires as to whether the angels have removed Jesus’ body. At that point, Mary turns around only to see Jesus standing before her, and mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realises that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus (John 20:14-16).

It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John remain hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must respond to is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus rose from the dead? According to Matthew he clearly did, and in John’s account they certainly did not. Both could not have occurred. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we are not just looking at contradictory versions; we are simply staring at two entirely different stories.

Many Christian propagandists have argued that the inconsistent resurrection accounts are similar to a traffic accident that is viewed by four different witnesses: Each who sees it has a distinct perspective. This might be a tenable idea if the evangelists were actually on the scene and watched the story unfold as the women approached the tomb. Yet this was not the case. Not only were the Gospel writers not eyewitnesses they didn’t even write their accounts of the story until at least 40- 100 years after it allegedly took place. Moreover, most of the inconsistencies in the resurrection narratives (i.e. date, time, and place) cannot be explained away as differences in perspective.

Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), a renowned philosopher and a contemporary of Jesus, wrote extensively about his time. Yet his entire corpus of works fails to mention a word regarding Jesus or his alleged resurrection. Josephus’ silence on this matter is also deafening. Consequently, the only information we have of this 2,000-year-old tale is a mainly Greek document called the New Testament. Yet the moment our finger begins to navigate through its verses we are confronted by the excess of glaring irreconcilable inconsistencies. Every element of the resurrection narrative is contradicted by another.

There is, however, a more significant issue here: the source. When a number of people, in different places, and at different times, write a description of an event that occurred in the significant past – whether a year ago, a decade ago, or a half a century ago – we expect and anticipate many contradictions. Why, you ask? Because humans are fallible, and are therefore likely to make unintentional and intentional errors. Accordingly, when we read descriptions of what transpired during a historical event, such as the assassination of JFK, disparities will inevitably exist among the accounts. Therefore, when various individuals witness a traffic accident and then attempt to clearly transmit the information they saw, errors will be made. This is what we expect from humans!

The New Testament, however, does not make this claim. Its authors and those who promoted the Christian religion wanted us to believe that its content was divinely inspired! Every word is from God – inerrant and infallible!

With this claim, we must hold it to an entirely different standard of accuracy – that of perfection. The time span from the first letters of Paul to the last words of Revelation is over 50/60 years. Moreover, these books were written from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Thus, if we are to assume mere mortals, without heavenly inspiration, wrote them, mistakes and inconsistencies are expected.

There is another difference between conflicting accounts of a traffic accident and conflicting accounts of the resurrection. The testimonies of a traffic accident are believable because they are likely to have occurred and make sense in our world. The resurrection story, on the other hand, is a biological and scientific impossibility. Thus, the only reason for believing its miraculous occurrence – defying all natural laws – is the believer’s total reliance on the credibility of the divine author. Since the stunning contradictions clearly establish the human origins of the resurrection stories, we can no more accept their testimony than we can that, let’s say the Book of Mormon. The physical resurrection story is a Christian self-serving rationalisation.

The general proposition is that one day Jesus was alive. The next day he was dead and a couple of days later he was alive again, in his original body. This scenario is disingenuous.

Debates about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are endless. There are roughly 1200 “mainline” Christian churches and anything between 20,000 to 32,000 Christian sects in the world today. To try to come to some consensus amongst that assemblage about many theological problems presented to us in the New Testament is an exercise in folly. To think that one can come to any kind of agreement among them with reference to the resurrection, borders on the irrational.