How did this thing called “Church” get started in the first place? Why did Jesus’ original followers start gathering together and worshipping this man, and why do Christians still do this two thousand years later? Do Christians meet together just because it makes them feel good?
The simple reason, however difficult it may be to believe, is that Jesus literally rose from the dead about 2,000 years ago. If you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, consider the following. Boston College professor of philosophy Peter Kreeft explains that there are only five possible explanations for the existence of the earliest New Testament manuscripts and the beginning of the Christian faith. Either 1) Jesus didn’t really die but only passed out and then came “back to life,” 2) Jesus’ followers created a myth about him (containing “spiritual” but not literal truths), 3) his followers deliberately lied about Jesus’ resurrection, 4) Jesus’ followers hallucinated or 5) Jesus literally died and literally came back to life. Possibilities one through four present the following difficulties:
- The Romans were good executioners and Jesus couldn’t have survived crucifixion. Scholars don’t deny that Jesus was executed; if he had lived through it, the soldiers’ own heads would have rolled.
- The New Testament records many post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. We could imagine one person having a hallucination of the resurrected Jesus, but Paul records in I Corinthians 15:3-8 that Jesus appeared to 500 people at the same time, most of whom were still living at the time of Paul’s writing. Anyone who wanted to corroborate this could have checked it out. A hallucination could also have been easily refuted by checking to see if there was a body in the tomb.
- There is nothing about the way the four Gospels or Paul’s letters are written that would lead someone to believe they are myth, except that they record miracles. They are written in straightforward language that suggests they are eyewitness accounts. Some liberal scholars argue that there was a “historical Jesus” who was a good teacher but no miracle worker. After his death, his followers then made his teaching live on through their resurrection stories. But we have no stories about Jesus other than the Gospels. That is because the stories as we have them in the New Testament are the originals. There was also no time for myths like these about Jesus to develop. Jesus died about AD33; Paul’s first letters were written AD50-52. What Paul wrote about Jesus agrees with what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote.
- No motivation existed for Jesus’ followers to invent a conspiracy about Jesus being alive if he was not. They were neither powerful nor influential. Many were martyred for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. It is difficult to imagine them holding on to a lie in the face of such suffering.
We are left with the alternative theory that Jesus really did come back to life. At the time of Jesus’ life on earth, there were many who disbelieved in the face of his miracles. No doubt there were those who saw the empty tomb and did not believe as well. The question is, in the light of the above evidence, do you believe? Maybe it is worth another look; read through the book of Mark and draw your own conclusions. Then come join us who are still worshipping the risen Jesus today as his church.
Arguments paraphrased from Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli
Handbook of Christian Apologetics. IVP, 1994