The Hinge

Jesus Christ, for many people, is understood as a moral teacher, champion of the underdog and all around nice guy.

He said a lot of “love your neighbour” type things, wasn’t afraid to sit at the social outcast table and unlike the religious-who’s-who, Jesus got invited to hang out at parties.

The thing is, Jesus also said a lot of things that disqualify Him from being just another sage in a long line of tunic clad gurus. He said things like, “I saw Satan fall from lighting from heaven” [1] and “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” [2]  and “I and the Father are one” [3].

Religious sages don’t talk that way. Religious sages present paths to salvation, Jesus on the other hand, break the religious 4th wall, looks right at you and says He is salvation. He said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life”[4].  That kind of saviour-speak disqualifies Him from being an “I’m OK, you’re OK” spiritualist. In the words of CS Lewis, the late atheist turned apologist – if Jesus isn’t the Lord, then He’s a lunatic.

Jesus is a bit of a paradox for us moderns. We resonate with His social conscience, His care for the poor and His refusal to reject the marginalized. We applaud the unprecedented dignity He gave to women that was millennia ahead of it’s time.  Yet, at the same time, His exclusive speech puts us on our heels.

In an era of post truth, we raise our eyebrow at absolute truth claims because they strike us as power plays. So, to guard against such buffoonery, we make the absolute claim that there is no absolute truth, which is a great power play.

(… but you knew that I was going to smugly and predictably highlight that contradiction and write something to this effect – so clearly, I cannot choose the wine in front of you.)

So when Jesus says, “No man comes to the Father except through Me” [5], we shift in our seats, because that Jesus sounds like He thinks He’s the Lord, and we prefer a caricatured hipster Jesus, who is totally chill with us being lord.

Given the claims that Jesus made to be God, it would seem that the real issue isn’t whether or not we agree with this passage of Scripture or that one – but whether or not Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

If He didn’t, then absolutely nothing in Scripture matters. If He did, then it all matters. Therefore, when you get right down to it, Christian faith isn’t founded upon an ideology – it’s actually founded upon on a very specific event in human history: the empty tomb in 33AD.

The resurrection is the great hinge on which the entire faith swings.

As we look back on world history, we find that it’s not just the Scriptures that speak about the Crucifixion, burial and empty tomb of Christ. In 64Ad, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote: “Christus .. suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of .. Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, .. but even in Rome.” (Annals, 15.44)

The “mischievous superstition” that broke out in Rome is the news of the resurrection which continued to spread through the ancient world by over 500 eyewitnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. [5b] “Checked for the moment” is in reference to Rome’s response, that the apostles stole the body and the increasing persecution of Christians that would continue to escalate, eventually coming to a head in 303AD.

In 94AD, another historian, Josephus Flavius, wrote  “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . and the tribe of Christians has not disappeared” (Antiquities 63,64)

I’m not suggesting that Roman antiquity confesses the resurrection – I am saying it confesses that the tomb was empty. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the empty tomb in 33AD is an uncontested historical fact. Why the tomb was empty is a matter of faith – but not faith that abandons reason.

In Christianity – faith and reason are friends.

The resurrection is the hinge on which the entirety of Christian faith swings and something isn’t true simply because we want it to be.

People who are far more capable than I am have given historical arguments for the resurrection [5c], so for the purpose of this article I thought I’d mention a few things that I found helpful in addressing the doubts that I had about the validity of the resurrection.

Doubts are good. I heard it once said that they are like antibodies, and without them, our worldview collapses at the first signs of attack. Though there are many theories about the missing body of Jesus, I’ll speak to one of the most common – and incidentally, the argument that I wondered about personally:

If both the bible and Roman antiquity agree that Christ was crucified, buried and the tomb was empty three days later, then the apostles stole the body and the writing concerning the resurrection is nothing more than a political hail-Mary by zealots committed to rebelling against Rome.

Consider Rome. A totalitarian superpower that ruled from 27BC – 1453BC. They crucified people as a stark reminder that Caesar was lord – they didn’t mess around. After the crucifixion, the Scripture records that the disciples were hiding behind locked doors [6]. Depicting the founder of your movement dying an offensive criminal death on a cross and the leaders of your movement hiding behind closed doors is the wrong literary angle to take if your goal was to get the Greco-Roman world to rally behind your cause. Ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t exactly have a political worldview that compelled them to pull for underdogs. All four gospel accounts make it abundantly clear that Christ was abandoned by his fear-filled disciples – the exact opposite of what the honour/shame culture of the Greco-Roman world would want in their leaders.

If a failed Messiah and a group of dissenters weren’t offensive enough, the Scriptures claim that very first witness of the resurrected Christ is Mary Magdelene. [6b] From a historical, literary point of view, writing that is revolution-suicide. To give you an idea of the ideology surrounding women in the ancient world, the Babylonian Talmud reads, Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.” [7]. Having the credibility of the resurrection riding on a woman would not compel anyone in the ancient world to rally behind your cause. 

In the ancient world, a woman’s testimony was not admissible in any court, yet the Bible gives women an unprecedented, cosmic level of dignity. God chooses Mary Magdelene to be the first witness of the resurrected Christ and to tell the disciples that He has risen.

If the apostles were concocting some grand hoax, literary criticism suggests the construction of the gospels is all wrong. Every ancient ear would close the moment you got to the part where the eyewitness was a woman. 

Except every ancient ear didn’t close.

Greeks, Romans and Jews were coming to faith in Christ by the masses. The explosion of Christ worship in the 1st century doesn’t make sense – unless what the eyewitnesses claimed to see was true.

If having your founder die an offensive death, your leaders hide like cowards and your first eyewitness be a woman isn’t a big enough ancient non-starter, there’s another massive hurdle that would have kept a resurrection hoax from getting any traction: this Jesus, who claimed to be God came back as a man. Eww.

Jews were taught to never worship a man as God and the Greco-Romans would be repulsed by the idea that a god would condescend to be a man. The whole goal of spirituality in the ancient world was to escape the material world – but the apostles claimed that their God came back into the material world – as a man – in the very form of the material world. If the apostles had taken their resurrection accounts to focus groups, the story would never go to pilot. Nobody would buy into this. They’d lose every ancient demographic.

In his book, The Sociology of Philosophies [8], Randall Collins traces the movement of philosophical thought. According to Collins, sociological and philosophical shifts don’t happen overnight. In summary, he asserts that significant paradigm shifts take generations to manifest. Christian faith is a specific moment in world history that we can look back on and find unprecedented, historical paradigm shifts crossing cultural and geographical lines as masses people came to faith and began worshipping Jesus Christ.

I wouldn’t be so bold to say that the arguments I am presenting here are irrefutable, but I do hope that you find them thoughtful. These are, among many others, reasons why I believe that Christ rose from the grave and trust in Him. These are just a few reasons why I believe that Christian faith is a reasonable faith.

As I look back on the resurrection accounts in Scripture, I find myself encouraged that the Creator God wrote himself into human history, revealing Himself as a Redeeming God. The One who brought life from chaos broke into human history to offer the grace of Christ in my chaos. And, I am encouraged by the trajectory that the resurrection boldly implies: the One who created everything is restoring everything. Because the resurrection is true, the story of our lives does not end with our inevitable death – but eternal life.

Press on,

Paul

PS … If you’re interested, I spoke on this subject here. I hope you find it encouraging.


[1] Luke 10:18
[2] John 14:9
[3] John 10:30
[4] John 14:6
[5] John 14:6
[5b] 1 Corinthians 15
[5c] The Dr. Craig / Dr. Erhman debate: Is there historical evidence for the resurrection?
[6] John 20:19
[6b] John 20:1
[7] Talmud, Sotah 19a
[8] 
The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change

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