In Chapter 6, Williams scrutinises the evidence for the Resurrection, and finds
it eerily compelling.
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them,
'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands
and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and
bones, as you see I have.'
The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they
have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe
this 'gospel' no gospels would ever have been written. It is very important to
be clear about what these people meant.
This is, perhaps, the most important issue of all. The Christian religion was
founded on the belief that the man Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died and was
buried, but three days later was alive again - 'resurrected'. More specifically,
Christians claim that Jesus escaped from the sealed tomb in which His dead body
had been interred. Subsequently, over a period of several weeks, He appeared in
bodily form to hundreds of people, including the Disciples and Mary Magdalene,
some of whom spoke and ate with Him.
This claim is utterly central to Christianity, to the idea that Jesus was not
merely a mortal man, but also was God - and hence that everything He did and
said must be understood in that context.
St Paul did not mince words on this subject. He bluntly conceded to sceptics of
his day that if the Apostles' claims about the Resurrection were untrue, then
the Christian religion was worthless and their conduct amounted to blasphemy:
[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have
testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.
(1 Corinthians 15:14-5. My emphasis.)
St Paul concluded that Christians 'were to be pitied more than all men' (1
Corinthians 15:19) if they had placed their faith in a mortal man whose
teachings applied only to this earthly life.
It may be objected that St Paul overstated the matter: quite a large number of
people today who practise the Christian religion profess that they do not
believe in the Resurrection as an actual historical event. Such people argue
that we are not supposed to take the Resurrection story literally; that the
Resurrection is a sort of grand metaphor for the change ('new life') that comes
upon any person who truly tries to live by the teachings of Jesus. Sceptics and
opponents of Christianity are usually not so charitable, but they arrive at the
same conclusion. They assert with varying degrees of sanctimony, sarcasm and
bile that the Resurrection cannot be understood literally. It has been variously
described as 'the central myth of the New Testament' and as 'the defining
heresy of traditional Protestant and Catholic Christianity' . Christopher Hitchens has averred that 'we have a right, if not an obligation, to respect
ourselves enough to disbelieve the whole thing' .
As I have made clear, I am certainly not one who considers that every word of
the Bible should be read literally or that every passage should be accorded
equal importance. There is good sense in many of the arguments advanced by John
Spong and other 'liberal' Christians: in some respects the Bible does need to be
'rescued from fundamentalism'. When reading any given passage, you must consider
the context in which it was written and ask yourself what the author of the
passage must have been intending to convey.
When it comes to the Resurrection, however, it seems to me quite clear that St
Paul in his letters - and the authors of the Gospels and the Book of Acts -
intended what they wrote to be taken literally. They were recording their
version of a real event; at the least, they all sincerely believed that the
Resurrection actually happened. Even Joachim Kahl acknowledged this: 'The
resurrection is regarded everywhere in the New Testament as a historical fact to
which eyewitnesses bear authentic testimony' . Of course, Kahl rejected the
accuracy of that testimony, as do many others like him today.
If the Resurrection did actually happen, then clearly enough it was a miracle.
The question, then, is whether that miracle did actually occur.
Buy God, Actually and read more...