San Marcos by Jusepe Leonardo, c.1630 CE
San Marcos by Jusepe Leonardo, c.1630 CE

Why Christianity is Unbelievable: Part 1, Messiah to Resurrection

By K.R. Bellew

K.R. Bellew is a former Bible college instructor turned atheist to Christianity.

This article will show in fine detail why it is unreasonable to believe that anything supernatural occurred to launch Christianity as a religion. Like other man-made religions, it is just the perpetuation of myths that have passed from group to group. The following will prove that.

To understand how these events unfolded, review this timeline before reading the article.

Timeline

 

Can the Resurrection of Jesus be Established Historically?

In the book, The Empty Tomb edited by Robert Price, Richard Carrier points out that historians have criteria for determining if a story is historically accurate. The following are some of the main determiners. Depending on how many of these points the event can claim will determine how historically probable it is.

 

  1. The main actor documents the account in his or her own handwriting.

  2. Reliable historians who are contemporary to the event give record of the event.

  3. Contemporary witnesses who are hostile to the main actor provide a corroborating account.

  4. First-hand witnesses who have no motivation to embellish the event record what happened in their own handwriting.

  5. There exists physical evidence in the form of coins, inscriptions, documents, etc. that are contemporary to the main actor that corroborate the claim.

  6. Was the event required in order for subsequent events in history to exist?

  7. Are the claims extraordinary, requiring a belief in magic or supernatural intervention for the event to be true?

 

Carrier points out that Christian scholars claim that there is better proof that Jesus existed and rose from the dead than there is of Caesar taking his armies across the Rubicon into Italy to start the Civil War in Rome. He mentions Christian apologist Douglas Geivett, who says that Jesus meets the "the highest standards of historical inquiry" and "if one takes the historian's own criteria for assessing the historicity of ancient events, the resurrection passes muster as a historically well-attested event of the ancient world."

Christianity is nothing if Jesus did not rise from the dead. The Apostle Paul even says that a Christian's faith is vain if Christ did not rise from the grave (1 Cor.15:17). Does the story of the resurrection really pass muster? How many of the historian's criteria does it pass?

•  The main actor documents the account in his or her own handwriting.

The first one is quick and easy. Jesus left us no writing of his own. One would think that if Jesus was a messenger with an important message, and he didn't want his message to get confused, he would have written the message himself. If nothing else, at least it would verify or deny claims that other people wrote about him. It would also provide some evidence that he even existed. Christianity fails the first criteria for historical proof.

•  Reliable historians who are contemporary to the event give record of the event.

This may come as a shock, but there is not one historian who was contemporary to Jesus who recorded anything about Jesus- None of his miracles, his exorcisms, his public trial, his crucifixion and certainly not his resurrection. In fact, his resurrection is not mentioned by a non-Christian historian until the 3rd century. Jesus is not mentioned by historians at all until the 2nd century, and by this time it is only to report what the Christians believed to be true. It was not to provide a contemporary eyewitness account. No established historians (contemporary to Jesus) provide a record of Jesus or his resurrection. The Bible accounts claim that he appeared to large crowds after his resurrection, yet, there is no recorded account from any contemporary historian related to this. Christianity fails the second criteria for historical proof.

•  Contemporary witnesses who are hostile to the main actor provide a corroborating account.

Christianity claims that Jesus gathered large crowds when he preached. In one sermon, he had gathered 5000 people. We're told that he taught at the Temple in Jerusalem. He ruffled feathers there. He made enemies. Yet, not one contemporary hostile witness records that Jesus existed, let alone caused chaos (like over turning money tables in the Temple ). If he really did appear to crowds after he rose from the dead, no one recorded that he did or even that they thought he faked his death. There are no contemporary hostile witnesses at all. Christianity fails the third criteria for historical proof.

•  First-hand witnesses who have no motivation to embellish the event record what happened in their own handwriting.

This one is slightly redundant, but it makes an important point. Nearly all of the New Testament writers never even met Jesus. The New Testament was mostly written by Paul and Luke, neither of whom ever met Jesus before his death. Mark, upon whose writings Matthew and Luke based their gospels, also never met Jesus. All of their knowledge is 2nd or 3rd hand or worse. There is very little proof that the Gospel of John existed in the first century. Most evidence suggests that it was a 2nd century work by a pseudepigraphal writer.

Paul had no first hand knowledge of the life of Jesus or of his resurrection. In fact, Paul was the first person to write about the life and death of Jesus. He never mentions any of the incredible details of the Gospels like Christ's miracles, his virgin birth, the Herodian slaughter of the innocents, his exorcisms, Christ's trouble with the powers that be, his trial, details of his death, the important women that surround Jesus like Mary, the public ministry of Jesus for 40 days after his crucifixion. Paul mentions none of these things (even when doing so would have bolstered his point), making the possibility that they are later embellishments very probable.

Paul was the first to write about Jesus, but the Gospel of Mark was the first to put into writing any information about the details of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. The fact that it was first written anonymously is not a contested fact. The tradition that Mark wrote the first Gospel started in the 2nd century by a guy named Papias around 125 CE. His writing are not extant, but we know what he said from historian Eusebius (b.260 CE – d.341) who says that Papias said that he heard from a presbyter the following, "Mark, who had been Peter's interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord's sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of the followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter's."

So, the tradition that Mark wrote the first Gospel, which was later copied by Matthew and Luke to form the foundation of Christianity, started by Eusebius hearing that Papias heard that a Presbyter heard that Mark wrote it, and that Mark's knowledge was not first-hand but from Peter repeating oral tradition. Does that sound reliable to you? You are going to argue facts taken from that account?

Read Papias' writings here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/papias.html

It's also from Papias that the tradition starts that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew, which was also a 1st century anonymous document. Who actually wrote those documents is controversial.

What is not controversial is that there is about 50 years that separate the writing of the stories of Jesus and the event. In between is a horrible war in which thousands of Jews are killed. Gathering and proving facts of the story is practically impossible. However, there is plenty of internal evidence within the Gospels to show that they are most likely fabrications caused by twisted attempts to prove that Jesus could have been the Messiah.

Christianity fails the fourth criteria for historical proof of the resurrection.

•  There exists physical evidence in the form of coins, inscriptions, documents, etc. that are contemporary to the main actor that corroborate the claim.

The first thing that comes to mind is called an "autograph." If we had a manuscript that was written in the actual handwriting of Paul, that would be called an "autograph manuscript." Christianity has no autograph manuscripts for any New Testament writer. All that exists are copies of copies of copies of copies. In fact, we don't even have copies of copies from the first century and very few from the second century. Without autographs or even 1st century documents, how can you prove that the stories have not been shaped and changed to suit the needs of a young religious movement trying to find its niche?

Christianity fails the fifth criteria for historical proof of the resurrection.

•  Was the event required in order for subsequent events in history to exist?

Could Christianity have made it into the 2nd century without Jesus having actually been raised from the dead? Of course it could. All it takes is for someone to believe that it happened. As Richard Carrier points out, Rome could not have continued as it did without Caesar crossing the Rubicon, bringing his armies into Italy. For proof that he did, we have his own hand writing in his book The Civil War. We have hostile witnesses – Cicero. We have coins that were minted. We have contemporary historians talking about it. However, all that is required for Christianity to continue is the propagation of a story. Whether the resurrection happened or not does not keep it from propagating. You just have to get people to believe. Christianity fails the sixth criteria for historical proof of the resurrection.

•  Are the claims extraordinary, requiring a belief in magic or supernatural intervention for the event to be true?

This criterion is not meant to establish an absolute bias against miracles. The point is that historically, when someone claims that a miracle has occurred, it is usually proven to be trickery, a fabrication, a mistake or a coincidence. Some people think that God intervened at dinner and created a grilled cheese with a photo of Mary in the burnt bread. While I cannot prove this is impossible, my experience tells me that it is more probable that coincidence is the real reason.

Because experience has taught us that miraculous claims should be viewed with healthy skepticism, it is appropriate to require the highest and best evidence to such claims. Therefore, when we are told that a man, who was stone cold dead for nearly 3 days, comes back to life via divine intervention, we have a right to require the highest proof of the event. However, I have shown that Christianity cannot show the highest form of proof for the resurrection. In fact, it has the lowest form of proof – 2nd and 3rd hand stories recounted by either unknown or questionable individuals- Or, by people who were not witnesses of the event.

Therefore, before you ask, "What about the empty tomb?" You must prove that there was a tomb in the first place. You must prove that the story was not a complete fabrication. Why should anyone believe a story with such outlandish claims that has such poor evidence to back it up?

What about Christian Martyrs?

A common answer that takes very little critical thought is to dismiss the lack of evidence because so many followers of Jesus died in martyrdom instead of recanting their belief in the resurrection. Why would they die for a lie? This perception has been well crafted by Christianity, but a closer examination will show that this is also not the way it happened.

First of all, the only Christians to whom this line of reasoning applies are the original witnesses. I will show that the Gospels are probably not a good representation of what the original witnesses saw. However, it doesn't matter because we have no record of any original witness being asked to recant or suffer martyrdom.

Second, Roman persecution at this time had nothing to do with getting people to recant their local religious views. The Romans, at this time (late first century), could not care less what deity you worshipped or what your theology was. All they cared about was whether or not you paid taxes and respected the Roman Empire. If they thought that your religious views were leading you down the path to creating a revolt (like the Jews did), they would bring you into court and, perhaps, give you a chance to show your homage to the Emperor. Part of this might be that they required you to show reverence to the gods of the State religion.

There is a poorly documented story that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome of 64 CE. However, even if it is true, Nero killed Christians for a particular crime (whether guilty or innocent). There is no proof that recanting would have saved them. They were simply guilty by association.

The only other persecution that might have affected the original witnesses would be the persecution under the Emperor Domitian in 81 CE. This would be just on the edge of the life times of the original witnesses. However, Domitian implemented the required worship of Caesar. Keep in mind that the early Christians were also still devout Jews for the most part. Monotheism was an absolute requirement of their religion. If they were devout, they would have refused to give homage to the gods of the State regardless of their views on Jesus. This is not logical evidence that the resurrection actually occurred.

There is no actual proof that Jesus rose from the dead. I have shown that the earliest account that recorded the resurrection of Jesus was copied by other gospel writers, and the earliest recording was written anonymously and later attributed to Mark. How can you base your entire religion on an anonymous writing that had no corroborating witnesses? The fact that Paul knew nothing of the virgin birth and miracles of Jesus makes it very probable that details about Jesus were exaggerated over time, including his rise from the dead.

In the next article, I'll describe why the gospel story of the Virgin Birth shows that the story of Jesus is a fabrication.

To read part two, click The Virgin Birth.