Tag Archives: Apologetics

Was Noah’s Flood Global or Local?

In 2004 I was among the multitudes across the planet who watched in horror as a powerful earthquake under the Indian Ocean created massive tsunamis, killing well over 200,000 people.  The videos of the waves rushing upon the land demolishing housing structures and ripping up trees demonstrated the awesome and deadly power of water.  Similar scenes played out during the Japan tsunami a few years back.  But this isn’t limited to tidal waves.  Tremendous devastation has occurred during sustained torrential rains, when dams give way and release mega volumes of water, and even when giant seas empty out onto lower land masses.   The reality of our situation is this: we live on a planet that’s covered by over 70% water.  Floods are bound to happen.  And occasionally, they are apocalyptic.

And then there’s the granddaddy of all floods, the so-called Noah’s Flood recorded in Genesis.  As traditionally understood, this flood was so enormous that it covered the entire planet.  And it was deep, very deep.  The tallest mountain was said to be under water.   Every person and all creatures were killed.  However, by virtue of God’s forewarning, Noah built a huge ark, and was saved along with his family and two of each kind of animal.

That is how the text is normally read and has been understood by Christians throughout history.  However, a growing number of Christians are proposing that the Flood wasn’t global in scope after all.  It was a local, or regional, flood.  They hold that the text can be read this way, and that unless we take the Flood as local, we run into a multitude of problems.  For instance: How could Noah and his three sons sustain all of those animals: food, water, cleaning?  And then there’s the scientific evidence, or lack thereof.  These arguments, among others, have caused many Christians to reconsider the traditional interpretation of Noah’s Flood.  And it should be noted that many are conservative Christians, even believing in the inerrancy of Scripture.

So where do I stand on this?  Well, let me be honest and say that I’ve courted the Local Flood Theory (LFT).  Some of the scientific arguments are indeed convincing, and even some of the textual arguments make some valid points.  But I can’t accept it if the text itself doesn’t allow it.  So I performed a personal experiment of sorts.  I started in Genesis 6 and read through to ch. 9.  Over the years I’ve done this “experiment” several times, even reading with the assumption of a local flood in mind.  Yet no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape the reality that the text teaches a Global Flood (GF).  In what follows I want to give a couple of arguments why the GF is the only interpretation that works.  Next I’ll discuss some of the common objections to the GF.  And lastly, there will be a brief discussion about why this is an important topic.

Argument #1: The duration of the flood

In even the worst of local floods, the water subsides rather quickly.  The reason for this is that it has somewhere to go.  Gravity pulls the water to the lowest point, into streams, rivers, and eventually, the oceans.  In the aforementioned tsunamis, the tragic events of the flooding lasted for perhaps a few hours, before the waters pulled back into the ocean.  Within a matter of days the land dried out and humanitarian efforts were underway.

Contrast the relative brevity of even the most enormous of recent floods, with the long duration of the Genesis account.  Consider these numbers:

  • “the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days” Gen. 7:24
  • It was 76 more days before “the tops of the mountains were seen” Gen. 8:5
  • It was 60 more days before a bird finally found land. Gen. 6:8-12
  • It took 150 days for the waters to fully abate after the flooding stopped. 8:3
  • In total, Noah was in the ark 315 days.

One could argue that the numbers here are merely symbolic and a little too neat to be taken literally.  But the text reads as history, giving specific dates at each milestone.  Even the most enormous of regional floods cannot account for the number of days listed above.  Some have proposed that the Mediterranean emptied into the Black Sea about 5,000 B.C., creating a significant flood of the region, searing into the memories and legends of those who witnessed it.  Certainly if this did occur it would be absolutely devastating.  The amount of water in that sea pouring through the land would decimate everything and everyone in its path.  But like all local and regional floods, it wouldn’t last that long before the water would subside finding a new place to rest.  Only if the water did not have a place to go, would it “prevail on the earth” for many months.

Argument #2: God’s promise to all earthly creatures

After Noah, his family, and all of the animals had exited the ark, God made a covenant with them.  Never again would flood waters destroy all creatures on the earth.  The sign would be the rainbow (cf. Gen. 9:8-17).  Keep in mind this wasn’t merely a covenant to a specific people, such as the Jews; nor was it just a covenant with all humans; no, it was a covenant promise to all creatures, human and animal.  As such, it’s the only one like it in the entire Bible.  Note the following verses:

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Gen. 9:11

And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Gen. 9:15

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.” Gen. 9:14

It’s hard to fit this covenant promise with a regional flood.  I would argue it’s impossible. In fact, I would go further and argue that it undermines the Noahic Covenant altogether. For instance, how would someone in say, Brazil, understand the Noahic Covenant? Does a rainbow there invoke a remembrance of the covenant, or does it only apply in the land of the flood?  This is a major problem created by trying to make the flood local.

I’ve debated how to structure this argument.  It seems a dialogue format will make it easier to follow.

GF Proponent: Do you believe the Noahic Covenant is for all humanity and all creatures?

LF Theorist: Yes, it was for all the creatures on earth.

GFP: Did all of the creatures on earth die during the flood?

LFT: Well, all of humanity died, since they were localized to that region.  That’s why an enormous and devastating regional flood could take them all out.

GFP: Do you also believe all of the animals on earth were located in that region?

LFT: Probably not.

GFP: Was the NC only for the animals coming off the ark, or for all animals on earth?

LFT: It was for all.

GFP: Then how does the NC have meaning with regards to the animals not experiencing the flood?  The animals’ comprehension of such a promise is beside the point.  How does the NC relate to those animals, or all of the animals that have existed since?

Since Noah’s Flood there have been countless local and regional floods that have destroyed whole populations of people and animals.  Perhaps one could argue that the NC is only for the Middle East region where the deluge took place.  If such is the case, it only applies to those living in that region.   But that’s a problem, and not a small one.  The NC has always been understood to be universally applicable, which is why you don’t find many (if any) proponents of a more limited understanding.  But if the NC isn’t limited in scope, then I can’t come up with a rational understanding of how it has lasting and binding meaning if the flood was merely local.  Only if all creatures, human and non-human, perished in this cataclysm does God’s universal covenant promise make any sense.  And the only way all creatures could perish would be in a global flood.

There are other problems with the LFT, but these two are sufficient to show that it undermines the text of Scripture, and virtually nullifies an important covenant of God.  But there are some objections to be answered.  Below are some of the most common.

Objection: The ark itself doesn’t make any rational sense.  First off, not all of the kinds of animals could possibly fit on it.  Second, there wouldn’t have been nearly enough room for all of the food and water for that length of time.  Relatedly, what about the carnivores?  Do we think that hay would satisfy lions & snakes?  Therefore, wouldn’t a multitude of extra animals be needed to feed them?  Third, how could a handful of people take care of such a large number of beasts?  And what about all of the waste! 

I don’t believe this to be a particularly difficult problem.   Recall that God is all over this story.  He is the one who calls Noah and gives him very specific instructions; He is the one who brings the animals to the ark; He is the one who shuts the door of the ark; He is the one who brings on the flood.  In light of God’s active participation in the story, it isn’t at all inconceivable that he caused the animals to fall into hibernation for the duration of the flood.  This would effectively eliminate any need for extensive care for the animals.  I understand the text doesn’t tell us this is what happened, but it is a reasonable explanation, and shows how it might well have occurred.

As for the number of animals, the text states that they were brought two by two according to their kind.  If we include all of the variations then, yes, it would be problematic.  But this isn’t how the story relates it.  And keep in mind the size of the ark.  Its dimensions were roughly 450’ long, 75’ wide, 45’ high, and it had three levels.  This was a very large vessel and would have had adequate room to house the animals.

Objection: There isn’t nearly enough water on earth to cover the highest mountain.  We’re talking enough water to cover the planet to a depth of over five miles!  Where did it come from?  And just as problematic, where did it go?  A localized flood makes way more sense.

This is a scientific objection with some teeth, I must admit.  The key to my answer is this statement: “the fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Gen. 7:11).  Rain in and of itself would not produce a global flood of this magnitude, even forty straight days of it.  However, if combined with enormous quantities of water from the “great deep” it could.  So is there water underneath us?  And if so, is there really that much water?  Yes, there is.  A couple of years ago scientists discovered that there is a giant reservoir of water way below the earth’s surface.  Perhaps three times the amount in all of the oceans combined.   Here’s a quote from New Scientist:

“We should be grateful for this deep reservoir. If it wasn’t there, it would be on the surface of the Earth, and mountain tops would be the only land poking out.”[i]

It should be noted that if there’s even more water down there, as the researchers believe could be the case, then there would be no “land poking out.”

Objection: Ice core samples demonstrate that there was no global flood.  These samples accurately relate historical data from tens of thousands of years ago, including volcanoes and droughts.  A global flood would absolutely be represented, if it actually occurred.  But it isn’t there, so the flood must have been local.

Of all the scientific objections, this one is perhaps the toughest to deal with.  There have been attempted answers, but none of these accurately deal with the evidence.  My first response is to acknowledge that these samples do not indicate a worldwide deluge during Noah’s time.  However, I don’t believe this is the definitive evidence against it.  While we know the effects of a big localized flood and of hydraulic effects in general, a worldwide flood as described in Genesis, has not been observed and could have unexpected effects upon the land and seas.  We also don’t know where the water entered and exited, what temperature it was, what temperature the earth was in various places, or of the salinity of the various seas.  For instance, if the seas were highly salinated, did the fresh water sit on top, only mixing a little?  Did the ice at the poles melt, or was the water cold enough and not long lasting enough to have not greatly affected the ice?  There is a lot we don’t know.  So while I understand the scientific case against the GF, it’s not so overwhelming to cause me to abandon the clear meaning of the Bible.

 

So why is this discussion important?  For one, if we abandon what the Bible teaches on the subject of the flood, there’s no reason to not use a similar hermeneutic elsewhere in Scripture.  Human nature is such that once a section of the Bible is found false, all of it becomes suspect.  But these chapters were not written as legendary or mythological accounts.  There is a great deal of specificity in it, far more than what’s in the other ancient flood stories.  For instance the dims of the ark show that it was designed to withstand a major flood; there are very specific landmark dates given, such as months, days, and Noah’s age.  If it’s legendary, then all of these details are superfluous.

A second reason to reject the LFT is that it serves to undermine the promises of God.  As shown earlier, the Noahic Covenant only makes sense if the flood was global.  When Christians believe in and teach a local flood, they need to understand the theological implications, as well as the effects on their students.  There are many promises of God throughout the Bible.  The NC was the first.  If it’s called into question, the rest also become suspect.  Let God be true.

________

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Scientist Steve Jacobsen as quoted in “Massive ‘ocean’ discovered towards Earth’s core,” by Andy Coghlan.  https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25723-massive-ocean-discovered-towards-earths-core#.U56BwfldXTo. Accessed 05 June 2016. To be fair, I should point out that the water in this reservoir is trapped within the molecular structure of the earth’s mantle. In other words, it’s not just some big underground ocean.  Therefore, some would object this couldn’t be released, at least not very easily.  But there’s still much we are learning about God’s creation.  It could very well be that the right conditions would cause the water to “burst forth” as described in the text.  This is apparently what did, in fact, occur.

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Book Recommendation: The Forgotten Trinity

About twelve years ago I had a brief struggle with the concept of God’s triunity.  Since many of my previous beliefs had proven less certain (end times views, free will, predestination), when the subject of the Trinity came up, I began to wonder if this was a doctrine worth having.  Was it merely something the church invented?  Is it a useful doctrine at all?

By God’s grace, I came upon a (then) newly released book by James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief.  What I learned was that, not only is the Trinity a biblical concept, it is absolutely essential to Christianity.  White does a tremendous job of explaining how the Trinity became widely recognized, why it’s such an important doctrine, and why we neglect it at our own peril.  The book was exactly what I needed and my faith was strengthened immeasurably by this rich truth.  I memorized his definition of the Trinity and have never forgotten it:

“Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal, coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

There has been something of a backlash in our culture against the whole church establishment.  Many people are looking at new ways of doing things, along with new ways of viewing God and the Bible.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, so long as vital biblical truth is not neglected.  One of those non-negotiables is the Trinity.  Now some might balk at using such a word since it’s not found in Scripture; but the word itself is not what’s important, but rather the concept.  So long as the following truths are accepted, whether or not one uses the term “Trinity” is irrelevant.

  • the Father is fully and eternally God
  • the Son is fully and eternally God
  • the Holy Spirit is fully and eternally God

-yet-

  • the Father is not the Son
  • the Son is not the Holy Spirit
  • the Holy Spirit is not the Father

If we accept these truths, then we have, in essence, accepted the Trinity.  There’s much more to discuss about this important doctrine, such as procession and order within the Trinity, but it’s important to get the basics down first.  James White’s book is a great introduction to the Trinity and I highly recommend it.  If you have doubts about the Trinity, if you want relevant information for use in your discussion with cults, or if you just love theology and want a refresher, read The Forgotten Trinity.

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Answering Christopher Hitchens’ Challenge – Part 2

“Here is my challenge . . . name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any[one] think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first — I have been asking it for some time — awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.” Christopher Hitchens, “An Athiest Responds” found here.

Christopher Hitchens

In a previous post, the first challenge was answered.   Though Hitchens clearly sees no need for an answer to the second, there are aspects to it that must be fleshed out.

Challenge Two: Is there a wicked statement or evil action performed by a Christian precisely because of religious faith?

If “religious person” is substituted for “Christian” the answer is indeed obvious, for some religions have as their core teaching some ideas that are repulsive to most people, and which, if acted upon, can make for a rather unpleasant environment.  But let me state again, I’m not an apologist for religion, per se, but rather the historic Christian faith.  Additionally, it is true even with Christians that at times we do things out of religious zeal that ends up being wrong.  Hitchens would be right on that charge.  But he actually proves the Bible’s point on this.  It is not from scriptural commands that we do evil, but because we choose to ignore those commands that evil is done.  Therefore what I would argue is this: there is no wicked statement or evil action performed by a Christian precisely because of a biblical command to do so.

In this challenge Hitchens assume both parties are in complete agreement.  It seems obvious to all that religion has done all kinds of heinous things in the name of God.  But here I want to make a couple of arguments.  First, we must distinguish what God has said and commanded from what man has said and commanded.  Second, Hitchens himself is appealing to a moral law in his use of terms such as “wicked” and “evil.”  If he has a foundation for his moral code, he needs to state it, otherwise it’s just his opinion.

Skeptics such as Hitchens cite two examples that prove to them that Christianity is evil.  One is that Christian history is replete with examples of the church gone wild, killing heretics, burning witches, etc.  Two, the OT is full of Israel’s genocide of whole people groups, as well as commands against women and slaves that make them second class.  These are common arguments made time and time again on message boards and in the media.  Let’s look at both charges.

The church has done much evil.

By now everyone has heard of the horrors committed by the church, such as the inquisition, burning of witches, oppression of women, the crusades, and imperialist missions.  If you didn’t learn of these in school, you’ve surely heard them repeated on TV, radio, and internet message boards.  It’s as if these are the ultimate evils committed in human history.

Well, let me first say that much of the outrage is justified.  The church has perpetrated its share of evil during the centuries.  But my argument is that these atrocities are in direct contradiction of the Bible’s clear teaching.  Therefore, though it can be accurately stated that religion caused evil, it is not correct to say that the Bible has caused evil.

Jesus himself said: “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.”  “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”    “If someone strikes you on the left cheek, turn your other cheek.”  Paul wrote: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”  And Peter wrote: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (John 18:36, Matt. 5:38,44; Rom. 12:20, 1 Pet. 3:9 ESV).  We see that there is not the slightest hint in the NT that Christians should harm anyone, let alone those who oppose them.  Rather, these verses teach us to be gentle and peaceable to everyone, including our enemies.

Illustration: Stop Sign

If someone barrels through a stop sign and strikes another vehicle, killing other passengers, do we blame the stop sign, or the person who disregarded the sign?  Now suppose this driver had been a staunch advocate of stop signs.  Does this affect our view of the stop sign’s innocence?  Of course not.  The driver, who proves himself a hypocrite in his disobedience, is to blame, and not the command itself.

In the same way the Bible is full of good instructions, many of which have been disobeyed, much to the church’s shame.  But it would be an error to blame the Bible itself for this; rather the rogues who ignore the clear instructions-even when done in God’s name-are to blame, since they are not relying upon the scriptures, but their own flawed wisdom.

The OT is full of evil acts.

The OT is another favorite whipping boy of the atheist and skeptics of all sorts.  A whole slew of verses are said to demonstrate that the God of the OT was some kind of evil tyrant, killing innocent people and commanding bizarre and unnecessary rituals.  To someone like Hitchens, this is ample proof that religion – and biblical religion at that—indeed causes evil.

Several things need be said here.  First, it must be pointed out (and it’s simply amazing to me how few get this) that these commands to the Israelites are not general commands for all time.  In other words, Christians today would be in serious error to assume that God desires them to carry out the same killings and rituals demanded of the Israelites.  This needs pointed out, because it’s often alleged that Christians want to instill OT law back into society, and this (rightly so) causes great fear and anger among non-Christians.  Yes, there are some who think this way, but the vast majority want nothing to do with such an idea.

Second, regarding the killing of life, how can God command such a thing?  Doesn’t this prove that the Bible is full of evil?  This is indeed a hard question, one that theologians and pastors have wrestled with for centuries.  But it can be answered.  We must first realize that God is the author of all life, and he is the sustainer of all things.  As the creator, he has complete rights over his creation to do what he wants.  Remember that God already takes life through old age, disease, accidents, murder and suicide, war, hunger, etc.  If God decided to remove lives through the sword of Israel, how is this worse than if those same lives had been drowned in a flood?

Third, atheists such as Hitchens must appeal to an ethical norm, a higher moral law, in order to discredit the Bible and Christianity.  The problem is that atheism does not allow for a transcendent moral code that can define for all people what is right or what is wrong.  All ethics must be either culturally defined or individually determined.  Often it’s both.  But if either cultural or personal in nature, how is it appropriate to pass moral judgment on another without making a specific culture’s view, or one’s own view, the standard by which others are judged?  This is what I call “the bane of atheism.”  Much more can be explored on this topic and I hope to do a post soon on this topic.

In our examination of Christopher Hitchens’ challenges we find his logic to be flawed.  First, he misunderstands Christian theology and ‘cherry picks’ from Christian history.  Like a politician, he plays to the crowd by exaggerating perceived flaws, then emphasizing them, then condemning it all as dangerous nonsense that should be avoided.  Yet most all biblical and historical scholars understand that both belief and history is complex and must be understood in its own context.  Hitchens simply does not see his error in this – or maybe he does.

Second, Hitchens  fails to see that his worldview cannot supply a moral code to condemn anyone.  This second point cannot be overemphasized.  It is his opinion that Christianity is full of evil and is bad for society.  But he must answer how his view is any better than anyone else’s.  Hitchens cannot do this, so his challenges end up being doomed from the outset.

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Answering Christopher Hitchens’ Challenge – Part 1

“Here is my challenge . . . name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any[one] think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first — I have been asking it for some time — awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.” Christopher Hitchens, “An Athiest Responds” found here.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, columnist and staunch atheist who never met a debate he didn’t like, has issued  two challenges to the religious believer.  Asserting that religion produces no more righteous acts than atheism, Hitchens also maintains quite confidently that religious faith often lead to evil acts.  It is interesting that he seems to think the second question is self-evident.  However, both questions need answered.  In this post, I hope to answer the first challenge.

Challenge One: Name one ethical statement or action that a Christian could do that an atheist could not also do.

( I’ve rephrased the statement slightly by using the term “Christian” for “believer” and “atheist” for “nonbeliever.”  This is no way changes the challenge, but helps narrow and clarify it.  Since I don’t believe all religions are true- let alone lead to God- I can only defend the Christian faith, which I hold to be completely true.  I use the term “atheist” since Mr. Hitchens himself is one and this is the worldview he defends.)

It is imperative to first understand that Christian theology does not assert that nonbelievers cannot be ethical or moral in speech and deeds.  In fact, we expect them to.  Otherwise, the world would be a rather miserable place, much worse than it is.  Theologians call this common grace.  Every person has a moral code imbedded in his/her heart, which is why even the most ardent atheist will perform philanthropic deeds, even when there’s no apparent personal gain.

But can unbelievers do every moral deed that a Christian can do?  In order to answer this question Hitchens and the Christian must have an agreed upon moral code.  Otherwise, the whole challenge is a nonstarter.  It seems that he’s asking the question in such a way that it is the Christian system of morals that is in view.  In other words the question could read: “is there any ethical act that you hold dear as a Christian that cannot also be done by a non-Christian?”

The answer to this revised question is “yes.”  I’ll give two ethical actions performed by Christians that an atheist would not do: prayer and evangelism.  In prayer the Christian can beseech God on behalf of others.  In evangelism, the Christian shares information that leads people to eternal life.  Since atheists neither believe in God, nor in humanity’s need for salvation, they cannot perform either deed without being hypocritical.  This in effect answers the question, so long as it is Christian morals in view.

Hitchens would certainly object to such acts being ethical.  But if he objects, he himself must become the definer of the ethics to be performed.   And if he gets to decide, then of course the atheist is going to perform his idea of ethical deeds.  Yet if this is how he intends the question, the first challenge is found to be fixed, and thus completely bogus.

Therefore, Hitchens’ challenge one fails.  For if Christian morals are in view, the answer is affirmative.  But if Hitchens’ ethics are in view, the whole challenge is a sham.

In the next post, the second challenge will be examined.

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The Resurrection: Objection 2: Jesus’ burial place was forgotten

Of the various objections to the resurrection, this is one of the weakest.  But it has been seriously proposed and on occasion it will rear its ugly head.  It therefore demands an answer, but I will keep the response short on this one.

According to this argument, since it was the preparation time before the Sabbath, Jesus was buried immediately.  Being in such a hurry to keep from any Sabbath violations, Jesus was quickly laid in a tomb and the ‘buriers’ – whoever they were – left in such a hurry that they forgot where they had laid him.

There are some serious flaws in this theory.  For one, in order for the objection to hold up, Jesus must have died an ignominious death.  If he was just another victim of Roman cruelty and few people cared about his death, it is possible his actual place of burial could have been forgotten.  But this goes against all available evidence.  Jesus was a highly controversial figure and his body would therefore not be forgotten.  And if he had been unknown and nobody cared?  Then one would need to explain the explosion of belief afterwards.  Not likely.

Next, some might argue that the 1st Century was a different era, meaning that they did not keep up with gravesites the way moderns do.  In this view, the ancients were bungle heads who could not be counted on to do anything right.  But this is simple chronological snobbery.  It is very easy to thumb our noses at foregone societies without ever really getting to know what they were all about.  Contrary to this view, past cultures and ancient civilizations were quite sophisticated in many ways.  People were not just buried haphazardly.  On the contrary, people planned their own burial places and those of their loved ones.  Are we to suppose that Jesus’ family, friends, and disciples all forgot where he was laid?  This is not a credible argument.

Finally, Jesus’ enemies had a lot invested in getting him arrested and executed.  Having his body come up missing – even if  by mistake – had the potential to ruin their plans.  Jesus’  burial place was not about to be forgotten.

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The Resurrection: Objection 1: The disciples stole the body

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first objection to Christ’s resurrection was that the disciples stole the body.  The guards at Jesus’ tomb went to the chief priests and elders with startling news involving angels and an empty tomb.  We read a brief account of what transpired at this meeting:

And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matt. 28:12-15 English Standard Version)

Earlier the chief priests had requested of Pilate that Jesus’ tomb be made secure.  Knowing that Jesus had taught he would rise in three days, they feared his body would be taken by his followers, who would then proclaim him raised.  So Pilate granted they use the temple guard (Roman soldiers assigned to the temple) to put a seal on the tomb and to watch it. (cf. Matt. 27:62-66)

Amazingly, the stolen body theory continues to prevail as a favorite among skeptics.   Indeed, it is the most natural objection considering the circumstances of the crucifixion.  After all, it is supposed, since dead people do not come back to life, and since Jesus’ followers considered him the Messiah, and considering Jesus himself spoke of being raised again, it is most probable that after Jesus’ death the disciples came and took his body and then proclaimed him alive. 

To most, this is a reasonable explanation.  But it is only reasonable because those who put forth the argument have not considered the evidence carefully.   When the facts are weighed, it becomes clear that it is highly improbable that the disciples stole Jesus’ body.  The naturalistic assumptions behind the disbelief in resurrections will be dealt with in a later post.  For now let’s consider why the objection at hand is faulty.  First, I will lay out some facts relevant to the discussion, and then proceed to build my case.

Fact #1:  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  

Fact #2:  Jesus was buried in a tomb.  

Fact #3:  This same tomb was found empty.  

Fact #4:  The disciples immediately began proclaiming Jesus to be resurrected.

These facts are well established and affirmed by virtually all NT scholars.  With these in view as a foundation, the following arguments will be offered:

 1.       The Roman guards would have never allowed the disciples to steal the body.  In addition to being highly trained soldiers, falling asleep on the job or being otherwise derelict in duty was punishable by death.  No amount of cleverness or bargaining would sway the soldiers.  One could posit that the disciples came in such numbers and force that the guard was overpowered.  But this fails for three reasons.  First, such an occurrence would likely have either greatly injured or killed the guard, making their later report to the chief priests unlikely.  Second, such an act would have been met with swift and severe punishment by the Roman authorities.  The ‘Jesus movement’ would have been squashed immediately.   Third, violence neither marked Jesus’ teachings nor the teachings of his earliest followers.  It is incredibly unlikely his followers could commit such an act and then turn around and spread his love.

2.       A stolen corpse does not inspire people the way the disciples were inspired.  Let’s follow the logic here.  If the disciples did somehow manage to retrieve Jesus’ body, what do we assume they did with it?  Did they just move it someplace else and bury it in secret?  And how would this act of deceit cause them to go from fearful, cowering followers of a condemned Messiah, to the fearless preachers of a risen Messiah?  If Jesus was not raised, and they knew this to be true, it would be insanity to willingly die for what one knows is a lie.  People will sometimes willingly die for what they truly believe, even if it is actually untrue; but people will not willingly die for what they know to be false.  The writings and teachings of these men indicate they were completely convinced that Jesus had risen from the grave.  The tomb was empty and the disciples had nothing to do with it.

3.       A mere empty tomb would not inspire the disciples the way they were inspired.  Is it possible that someone else took the body of Christ?  Perhaps some fanatical wing of Jesus’ followers stole the body, the disciples found the tomb empty yet never found out who did it.  Well, this argument fails from the start since it cannot overcome the objections above regarding the guard.  But assuming such an event did occur, would the disciples’ reaction be one of elation and empowerment?  Rather, would it not more likely be bewilderment and sadness that someone stole the body?  They would be beside themselves wondering who would do such a thing.  In fact, the initial reaction of the women at the tomb was that someone took Jesus’ body, and it greatly upset them.

4.       If the disciples’ took the body, they would not have women as the first witnesses.  In 1st Century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was next to worthless.  It is highly unlikely that the conniving disciples would concoct a story about the resurrection that allows women to be the first witnesses.  If they had wanted to attract their fellow Jews, this was not the way to go – unless it really happened that way.

5.       If the disciples’ took the body, they would not have portrayed themselves the way they did.  Throughout the Gospels accounts, and even to the end, the disciples are portrayed in quite unflattering ways.  They doubt, say stupid things, do stupid things.  If they made the whole thing resurrection account up, would they really portray themselves this way?  I suppose someone could object that the Gospel writers’ were using some kind of ploy.  They intentionally used these unfavorable accounts to make the whole story more believable.  But such an argument projects modern ways of writing onto 1st Century writers.  People back then simply did not write that way.

It is telling indeed that the earliest argument against the resurrection of Christ was this one.  The religious leaders did not pretend to offer up arguments of mass hallucinations or argue that Jesus did not really die.  They knew better, though it seems probable they still were not convinced of the resurrection.  Perhaps they thought the soldiers were exaggerating the whole angel story, or maybe they thought that the disciples had help from magicians of some sort.  But it is certain that they knew the tomb was empty.  We must not fail to see what these religious men failed to see – the best answer for the empty tomb is the resurrection

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