The resurrection of Jesus in the Bible

The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central tenet of Christianity. But the evidence for this extraordinary claim is nonexistent outside the Christian Bible, and contradictory within the Christian Bible.

In the earliest written Biblical reference, Paul says the risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at one time [1 Cor 15:3-8]. Yet in the earliest written Gospel, called Mark, the allegedly risen Jesus does not appear to anybody. A different writer later added that part [16:9-20] to the Mark story, with the risen Jesus saying that people who believed in him could safely drink poison.

The Gospels called Matthew and Luke, written a decade or more later, were the first to include the risen Jesus physically appearing to people. But in Matthew, this seems relatively commonplace, with the bodies of many dead people being physically resurrected, coming out of their tombs, and appearing to many people [27:52-53]. None of the other Gospels mention this incident.

Nor do the Gospels agree on where and how many times the risen Jesus physically appeared. In Mark he does not appear at all. In Matthew he appears twice, to the two Marys on a road [27:8-9] and to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee [27:16-17]. In Luke he appears three times: to a man and his companion on a road [24:13-32], to Peter in an unspecified place [24:33-34], and to his disciples and others in a house [24:36-53].

In John he appears four times: to Mary Magdelene who thinks he is a gardener outside his tomb [20:11-18], to his disciples twice in a house [24:19-23, 26-29], and to some of his disciples for breakfast after a fishing trip [21:1-12]. None of the Gospels include Paul’s remarkable claim that the risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at one time.

These fantastic and wildly inconsistent stories may have seemed convincing in more primitive times, written as they were as standalone stories in different places for different audiences, many of who believed the world was coming to an end within their lifetimes. They are no basis today on which to build a worldview about the nature of reality or how we should live together as sentient beings.

For a comprehensive analysis of these and similar themes, read the work of Bart Ehrman and other academic textual critics of the New Testament.

The resurrection of Jesus in the Bible

One thought on “The resurrection of Jesus in the Bible

  1. We must all–believer, nonbeliever, or "jury still out"–realize that these stories were all concocted in a particular time and place for a particular reason and a particular audience. To do otherwise is to rob them of their power and poetry, and disconnect them from the human experience. If we see them as part of the great tapestry of mythology–a word that I know greatly bothers believers, since we tend to use "myth" and "fiction" as synonyms–then the stories all have so much more meaning. But if we insist on taking them in a literal-factual way, then we trip ourselves up in exactly the way you indicate in your final sentence.

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