“The Resurrection story is a myth”
It can be shown, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the resurrection of Christ was neither a hallucination nor an elaborate deception. However, is it not possible that the resurrection stories are just legends or myths that developed over time before being written down?
Carl Jung wrote “The Osiris myth was clearly superseded by the Christ myth.” The Osiris myth lasted for 4500 years in Egypt. The idea is that the resurrection of Christ is just a continuum of ancient stories about a dying and rising god. Is the Christian belief in the resurrection just such a myth?
This is a popular idea with those who reject any supernatural explanation of the events of Easter Sunday. However, it only has any credibility as long as it is not considered in any depth.
1) Firstly, and fatally for the myth theory, there was just not long enough for a myth to develop. Myths take hundreds or even thousands of years to develop. The original ‘demythologisers’ argued strongly for a late second century date for the writing of the gospels. This would have allowed several generations to have passed before the account was put to paper and mistakenly taken as fact rather than myth. However, there is constantly increasing evidence for a very early date for the writing of most of the gospels. John Robinson has suggested that the gospels were written as early as 40 or 50AD; just 20 years after the resurrection and well within the lifetime of most of the witnesses. Even those who dispute such early dates for the gospels are very unlikely to dispute that Paul’s letters were written in the first century and well within the lifetime of witnesses to the events described. Myths require several generations to build up – but in the New testament there was not room for even one generation.
Julius Muller wrote;
“One cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character [Jesus]….if eyewitnesses were still at hand who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time but prefers the mysterious gloom of gray antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and most rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land.” (The Theory of Myths in Its Application to the Gospel History Examined and Confuted [London, 1844], p. 26)
2) The plain fact of the matter is that the gospels read nothing like a myth. They keep referring to eye witnesses and to history. The style of the gospels is radically different from all ancient myths.There are also telltale marks of eyewitness description, like the little detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not (Jn 8:6). No one knows why this is put in; nothing comes of it. The only explanation is that the writer saw it.
Firstly, in myth psychological depth is unimportant. In myths spectacular events happen to make it more interesting. However, nothing seems to happen in the gospels without meaning or forming part of a greater ‘whole’.
Secondly, myths are extremely verbose and read at great length. The gospels, however, are concise and describe great events with a minimum of words.
To get a feel for the difference between the plain factual and historical writing of the gospels and the rather more fanciful and spectacular writing of myths and legends read the following from the so-called Gospel of Peter, a forgery written in Peter’s name, around 125 AD. William Craig Lane summarises it thus;
“In this account, the tomb is not only surrounded by Roman guards but also by all the Jewish Pharisees and elders as well as a great multitude from all the surrounding countryside who have come to watch the resurrection. Suddenly in the night there rings out a loud voice in heaven, and two men descend from heaven to the tomb. The stone over the door rolls back by itself, and they go into the tomb. The three men come out of the tomb, two of them holding up the third man. The heads of the two men reach up into the clouds, but the head of the third man reaches beyond the clouds. Then a cross comes out of the tomb, and a voice from heaven asks, “Have you preached to them that sleep?’ And the cross answers, ‘Yes.'” (Apologetics, p. 189)
One of the best anti-demythologizing essays is written by C.S. Lewis in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (in Christian Reflections and also in Fern-Seed and Elephants).
(3) The myth theory has two layers. The first layer is the historical Jesus, who was not divine, did not claim divinity, performed no miracles, and did not rise from the dead. The second, later, mythologized layer is the Gospels as we have them, with a Jesus who claimed to be divine, performed miracles and rose from the dead. The problem with this theory is simply that there is not the slightest bit of any real evidence whatever for the existence of any such first layer. The two-layer cake theory has the first layer made entirely of air—and hot air at that.
William Lane Craig summarizes situation as follows:
“The Gospels are a miraculous story, and we have no other story handed down to us than that contained in the Gospels….The letters of Barnabas and Clement refer to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. Polycarp mentions the resurrection of Christ, and I eus relates that he had heard Polycarp tell of Jesus’ miracles. Ignatius speaks of the resurrection. Puadratus reports that persons were still living who had been healed by Jesus. Justin Martyr mentions the miracles of Christ. No relic of a non-miraculous story exists. That the original story should be lost and replaced by another goes beyond any known example of corruption of even oral tradition, not to speak of the experience of written transmissions. These facts show that the story in the Gospels was in substance the same story that Christians had at the beginning. This means…that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of the story.” (Apologetics, chapter 6)
4) The New Testamen itself clearly refutes that it is a myth. See 2 Peter 1v16. Since it claims not to be a myth then there are two logical possibilities. One is that it is a myth and therefore this claim not to be a myth is a deliberate lie by the writers. If this is the case then we are back to the conspiracy theory with all its related difficulties. If it is not a myth then it is history as it claims to be.
5) The evidence that the New Testament as we now have it is written by eyewitnesses to the facts they report is as follows:
a) The style of the gospels is alive and dynamic. What would be expected of eye witnesses – not ancient mythological stories passed down from generation to generation.
b) It is agreed by virtually all scholars that Acts was written before the death of Paul – as it fails to mention his death. But Luke must have been written before Acts as they are clearly by the same author. Therefore Luke must have a very early composition date indeed – which means its author probably did, as he claims, consult with all the relevant witnesses and make painstaking research before writing the document.
c) All the gospels show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem before its destruction in 70AD – which demonstrates a likely early date for them all.
d) The gospels relate that the disciples were weak, human, slow on the uptake, doubters, deceivers, etc. All such facts seem to attest to their accuracy.
e) The gospels do not contain any anachronisms. In other words the authors do really appear to have been first century Jews.
f) If Jesus was a real person then surely the disciples would have left some writings? If so – where are they if they are not the gospels?
g) The extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors: the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes, Theophilus, Hippolytus, Origen, Puadratus, I eus, Melito, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Tatian, Caius, Athanasius, Cyril, up to Eusebius in A.D. 315, even Christianity’s opponents conceded this: Celsus, Porphyry, Emperor Julian.
h) The testimony of the resurrection goes back to the original experiences. Remember the eyewitness creed of 1 Cor. 15? That is the first-hand testimony of Peter and James. So it is not the case that the resurrection belief evolved over time.
6) The myth theory cannot account for the empty tomb.
7) The myth theory cannot explain the sudden conversion of Paul to Christianity. Would he really have been convinced by a myth? His conversion was much too early for any myth to have developed by then.