In what follows it should be understood that one thing I would never want to do is purposefully destroy someone's faith. However, I do challenge everyone to intelligently look at their faith, whatever it may be, and examine it with an unjaundiced eye. After all, faith in a real truth has nothing to fear. I believe it was Jesus himself who said that He came to bring truth and "you shall know the truth and it will set you free." I only want everyone to really know why and what it is they believe and does it fit into what this man many believe to be a Messiah and God would call "the Truth."
First let me address a well-worn argument that pertains to the first Christian believers. I will try to summarize it in a few sentences. Basically, the question being pondered is -- "Why would a group of simple businessmen and everyday folk give up everything they have come to know, believe in and respect to follow one man and his teachings...even to the point of sacrificing their families and lives?" It is a good question and one I have often asked about others in the world who have dropped everything to follow a certain man, creed or doctrine, even if doing so meant their ultimate death. I have asked that about those early followers of Simon the Wizard, millions of Arabs who have followed Muhammed, those hundreds of thousands of Jews who fervently followed Shimon Bar Kochba against the Romans and Sabati Zvi, the infamous false Messiah. Or, in more contemporary times Rev. Sun Yung Moon, Rev. Jim Jones, Jim & Tammy Faye, Jimmy Swaggart and the list just goes on and on.
What ability did all these leaders (or their teachings) have on those that have come into contact with them and given up all to follow blindly along? Once we can agree on the real answer to it, perhaps we can put an end to it once and for all...but I am not holding my breath. What one thing they do have in common, at least on the superficial surface, is something all humans want desperately -- HOPE! Paul got one thing right in all his writings...."these three abide, Faith, Hope and Love." As long as there is someone out there peddling any are all of these three, that person will gather around him a mass following no matter how ludicrous the rest of what they have to say or do is. People starve for faith, hope and especially love and there will always be predators out there to spoon feed them just enough of it to get them hooked on their tale of.....as Penn Jillette likes to call it ....Bullshit!
The following treaties is directed to those who believe the bible to be the infallible word of God. To those Christians, anyone claiming to be a Christian but not believing one of those basic tenets of faith as laid out in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 are not true Christians but are pretenders, no matter how well intentioned they may be.
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)
The presupposition of official Christianity is that the Bible, was originally written down by people inspired by God, and as such is the infallible word of God in written form; has all the divinely inspired answer to the problems faced by humanity and the Earth. It has been accepted that some problems in translation do exist, however, the official Christian stance is that God Himself maintains the integrity and accuracy of His words through the work of the Holy Spirit even in its varied translated forms.
Faith is all well and good and a necessary part of being able to live and function each second of our lives. After all, without faith who would drive across a bridge spanning thousands of feet over empty space, or climb aboard an airplane, etc, etc. However, faith not based on substantial fact is not real faith but fantasy and wishful thinking. We have ample proof of that over the centuries. Just look at Sabati Zvi, Simon the Wizard, Jim Jones, Jim and Tammy Faye, Jimmy Swaggart (a lot of Jims out there asking for nothing but your faith) and a whole host of others who want you to put aside the facts and "just have faith" in their particular woven tale. Now on to the subject of the resurrection of Jesus:
According to the real founder of Christianity, the apostle Paul, the entire Christian belief-system stands or falls on one single alleged fact: that being, the resurrection of Jesus. In the apostle's own letter to his Corinthian believers he said this -- "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
That is a very powerful claim. Resting everything on an event witnessed first-hand by no one. But not being witnessed does not necessarily mean we can't put the pieces of the so-called primary event together into an actual picture puzzle that makes rational sense so that if it be a true fact, one's faith can rest assuredly on its solid foundation and not on the sifting sands of other so-called purveyors of the Almighty.
All that follows will come from the Christian account. Not those who have spent a lifetime trying to prove or disprove the event, but simply the words of the Christian documents themselves. They will simply speak for themselves if they speak truth or falsehood. I will do nothing more than ask some relevant questions as it pertains to these document's claims.
One thing must be kept in mind when reading these texts from the Christian bible. As I mentioned earlier, they have been claimed by Paul, Stephen, Peter and other alleged writers of the texts to be wholly (and holy) inspired by God, the Holy Spirit, and without error or contradiction. (Acts 7:55, 6:10)
One of the first questions one is forced to ask is "Exactly where did Jesus go from the time of his crucified death to his alleged 'bodily' resurrection?" And, we are talking bodily resurrection not some spiritual one. Jesus supposedly made that clear when his physical body was missing only after 3 days of burial, asked Thomas to put a finger in his wound on the side of his body and he ate a piece of fish to prove to those standing around that his body, while of a resurrected state, was still capable of corporeal affection. So, where did Jesus venture off to between these two crucial events in his life (and death)?
Did he take a trip to heaven - the throne of God? According to Luke 23:43 the answer is yes -- "today you shall be with me in paradise." But then we have the Garden tomb area (John 20:17) account with his post-resurrection statement to Mary Magdalene, "touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." So, which is it - Paradise THIS DAY or I HAVE NOT YET ASCENDED - ? We won't even touch the accepted Christian doctrine that Jesus descended into hell and took all the souls out of the bosom of Abraham and brought them to heaven during this same time.
Real confusion arises in the Christian gospels agreeing on who saw whom first. John 20:1 says Mary Magdalene was the first to approach the tomb and she was alone when she paid the visit. However, the writer of Matthew 28:1 disagrees and says it was Mary Magdalene and another woman also named Mary (Matthew 28:1). Luke 24:10 adds a third person on this first visit not even spoken of by the other two writers. Her name was Joanna. Now along comes Mark. Mark's account is well documented to be the oldest of all four accepted gospels, written somewhere between 30 to 50 years after the supposed events they report on. All the others are between 80 to 100 years later, with John's account being the last written of all four, probably between 100 and 150 years after the events. Also, the oldest known accounts of Mark's gospel don't even mention the resurrection but simply end with the death of Jesus. Several years later the latter verses of Mark 16 were added. This is an undisputed academic fact and I see no need to elaborate on that here. There is plenty of evidence in scholarly works available to anyone interested in studying them. With the later additions to Mark's gospel, a resurrection account was added and that entry states that there were the two Mary's on hand and a third woman named Salome. No mention of a Joanna (Mark 16:1).
One would think that for such an important event which acts as the foundation for the entire belief-system the simple matter of determining Jesus' whereabouts and precisely who was at the tomb and when would have been worked out so that there was agreement between all parties. But, let's move on.
Once these unknown number of folks reached the tomb, was there anyone there to greet them. Was Jesus there? Perhaps a groundskeeper, or maybe some angels? It would appear that the four transcribers of the event couldn't quite agree on this simple matter either.
Matthew 28:2 & 5 says a single angel was sitting outside the tomb upon the arrival of visitors to Jesus' tomb. However, Luke 24:4 disputes that and says no one was outside, but there were two men (not angelic beings) standing inside the tomb area. Mark's later added account disagrees and says there was only one man inside the tomb awaiting them. John 20:1,2 says there wasn't anyone - angel or men - there to meet the tomb visitors.
Thanks goodness we don't have to rely on these four witnesses of this important event for court room evidence during a murder trial.
Anyway, now that at least Mary Magdalene is at the tomb, did she receive any kind of word of warning concerning the resurrection before her actual encounter with Jesus? On this three of the gospel writers do agree and say yes she did (Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:6; and Luke 24:5). However, the youngest of the gospel accounts totally disagrees with the three older versions of the story and says that it was Jesus himself, and not another, who first reveals himself to Mary that he was alive and well. See John.20:14-17.
Okay, at least we have all four agreeing that Mary was the first to either see Jesus, hear from him directly, or at least got the message from some other source that Jesus was resurrected. Whew! I was getting a little worried that these accounts might not be so trustworthy. Wait, Oh no another major dis-accounting of what may, or may not have taken place. Matthew 28:8-9 says that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene on a road, but John 20:14-17 says it took place, not on the road to (or from) the tomb but at the actual tomb site. Comon! Now I'm getting a little frustrated over these four guys inability to just tell it like it was and not what they wanted it to be.
I guess the next question to ask would have to do with how the other listed woman reacted to the news of the resurrected Jesus. Now, when these women were first told that Jesus had risen, did they fearfully keep the news to themselves as the later addition to Mark's gospel claims (Mark. 16:8)? Or, did they immediately rush to inform the rest of Jesus' disciples as reported by Luke. 24:9 and Matthew 28:8? Which was it I wonder -- Keep it secret or spill the beans? I guess it's up to you to decide. Fortunately if you had been living in the 1st & 2nd century (when this new faith was growing) you would only have to agree with whatever gospel account was available in your city, town or village. Today however, we have all four to compare and the discrepancies are just too obvious to ignore.
Now let's get back to our supposed key witness -- Mary Magdalene. Was her initial report to the disciples a hearsay account of what she had been told by those two men found in Luke 24:9 or, was it her own first-person account of an actual visitation by the risen Jesus as reported by John 20:18? Again, you decide which is true and false.
Then there are those pesky disciples. What have they been doing all this time? Most gospel accounts agree they were in hiding. Of course though they can't seem to decide if they were still hiding in Jerusalem or scattered around the Galilee. More importantly though is when and where Jesus made his revelation to them. Was it in Jerusalem with the eleven remaining as Luke 24:33 & 36 claims. Or, possibly many miles away in the Galilee as reported by Matthew 26:16 and Mark 16:7 & 14. John has them meeting up with Jesus in Jerusalem, only its ten not eleven because Thomas was off doubting somewhere during this visit. See John 20:10, 19, 24.
Paul really goes out on a limb and says Jesus appeared to all twelve disciples (1 Corinthians 15:15). Funny how this event took place before Judas' replacement vote occurred in Acts 1:26. Paul can be forgiven I suppose since he was just a babe in diapers at this time and wasn't actually there to witness it himself, so getting that little fact wrong is understandable. Oops! No, sorry, it can't because all these writings are Holy Spirit inspired and without error, so while Paul may not have been there, the Holy Spirit directing his writing hand certainly was. Wonder why the error then? Humpf! Will have give that one some thought. I have often wondered who was this number 12 disciple Paul was referring to though. Surely Paul knew Judas was already dead by this time (Matthew 27:5), but then again, maybe that lends some credibility to the Judas gospel after all. Time will tell.
All these discrepancies must lead even the most thinking faithful to ask the following question: "Would it be prudent to base even the simplest decisions of everyday life upon reports and witnesses which were so obviously inconsistent and contradictory?" That leads to the even more important question then, "Does it make sense to do so when one's eternal salvation is at stake?"