An Elephant in the Resurrection Skeptic’s Room
by Milt Chamberlain
Skeptic Richard Carrier writes, “Many things could be said which cast doubt on the story of the Resurrection of Jesus by God…since I cannot rationally bring myself to believe this story, I cannot rationally bring myself to be a Christian.” His collection of essays, entitled “Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection,” elaborates on the reasons for his rejection of Christianity’s central tenant.1 As a volunteer apologist for RTB, I recently responded to an email requesting a rebuttal of Carrier’s arguments. His arguments aren’t new, but as I read his essays and drafted a response I felt uneasy. Was I overlooking something important?
This feeling persisted until halfway through my first draft when it hit me. Resurrection skeptics like Carrier eagerly characterize New Testament (NT) authors as “unknown,” under-educated, and biased—what I’ll call “ugly-duckling” historians or witnesses—but these skeptics overlook an elephant in the room, namely the scriptural declaration that God intentionally chose ugly-duckling witnesses. Carrier, in his essay “The Rubicon Analogy,” presents seven points in the ugly-duckling strain against the NT writers.2
1. Jesus never wrote anything: True, Jesus lived what He preached. His followers preached what He lived and then wrote it down. Jesus was not a publishing academic, but Truth alive, humanity’s ultimate object lesson, and so much more.
2. New Testament writers were not reputable historians: True, all were common men and—excepting Paul, Luke, and possibly Matthew—under educated. But does education or high position guarantee honesty or accuracy? Surely, only elitists would propose this idea.
3. New Testament writers wrote to persuade to belief in the risen Christ: True, they wrote as eyewitnesses for whom objectivity was unnatural and impossible. The Gospels and Acts are recalled accounts of passionate eyewitnesses (or reports from such), not dispassionate writings of uninvolved scholars. We should feel neither surprise nor disquiet about their persuasive bias. Instead, shouldn’t we expect it?
4. Jesus’ first-century enemies published nothing to deny the resurrection: True, why would they? Their harshest critic was gone. Yes, His body was missing and there were disturbing resurrection rumors, but why would His enemies publish written accounts denying an event they claimed never happened? Surely, they followed an age-old strategy: do not “give legs” to a rumor by permitting, much less fostering, public discussion.
5. There is no physical evidence for the resurrection: True, but what physical evidence should we expect? Religious and Roman authorities never produced Jesus’ body to quell growing resurrection rumors even though they had every motivation (and the manpower) to find Jesus’ body and put an end to these “messianic pretensions.” But they didn’t.
6. Belief explains Christianity’s growth, but belief doesn’t have to be true: Not exactly; this idea fails to explain the eyewitness’ behavior. Yes, people willingly die for unsubstantiated beliefs they think true. But the ugly-duckling eyewitnesses had lived with Jesus and saw Him die and then live again. They suffered martyrdom or exile because they had seen and knew the living Truth. They alone had irrefutable, objective evidence of the resurrection. We don’t, but we have reasonable evidence provided in what they wrote.
7. If the resurrection occurred everyone would have known it: By God’s design relatively few people (more than 500) saw the risen Savior. The resurrected Christ chose to reveal Himself through a handful of ugly-duckling witnesses.
In this last point we find the elephant unseen by skeptics. First Corinthians 1:20 (ESV) asks, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” In painting Jesus’ ugly-duckling eyewitnesses as unqualified historians, skeptics merely confirm God’s declared strategy for the Gospel. They describe the elephant but cannot see it…
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