When I was in year one, one of my classmates bought to class a packet of highlighter pencils. I had never seen anything like them before. They were the brightest, boldest, most spectacular shades of pink, yellow, green, and blue I had ever seen. They made his workbook light up like a treasure chest of jewels in a dark room. I wanted them. And so, when he wasn’t looking, I gathered up his pencils and swiftly shoved them into my school bag. I felt a sense of guilt of course, but my desire to have them was greater than my sense of guilt.
To use the pencils unashamedly and without reservation, and so to make the theft worthwhile, my mum would need to believe they were mine. So, I told my mum that I had won them as a prize because I had listened so well in class. This way, I could not only hold onto the pencils, but I could inflate, rather than impair, my mother’s view of my character. This worked well for a while, until the pride of my mother in my listening skills made me feel so bad that I soon confessed my lie (and my theft), and returned the pencils to my friend who seemed to have never realised they were missing and appeared unfazed by my theft.
Why did I lie? Well, who wants to admit they are a thief? That would be shameful and embarrassing. I’d much rather my mother had a good impression of me. So, I made up a story that was favourable to my character. Of course, the answer was not to steal in the first place. But my attempt to avoid embarrassment reflects one of the most common reason that people lie. Rarely will people ever tell a story which brings embarrassment or shame to themselves or their community – unless of course, it is true.
Over the centuries people have brought into question the credibility of the Bible’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Men and women who have read of Jesus appearing alive again after being dead have rightly recognised that it is an incredible story. Some have wondered whether it is far too incredible to be true. After all, seeing someone resurrected isn’t a day to day experience for most people, so could it be fabricated? Is it a lie?
This is a reasonable question to ask.
After all, seeing someone resurrected isn’t a day to day experience for most people, so could it be fabricated? Is it a lie?
In examining this question, however, there is one problem that stands out if this were a lie. In the Gospel accounts in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we read that women were the first to witness the resurrection of Jesus:
‘After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”’
This is not something that you would write into the story unless, of course, it is actually true
The resurrection account is built on the testimony of women. To our ears, reading this fact is (hopefully) like: ‘Yeah, so what?’. As a woman, I would hope that if the resurrection of Jesus were to take place in our present times and a woman was to post an Instagram pic of Jesus’ empty tomb, accompanied by the words: ‘Guys… he’s risen!!!’, we may think the idea of a resurrection peculiar, but we wouldn’t think twice about the unusualness of a woman announcing it. Not so, however, in the world of first century Palestine.
In the world of first century Palestine, a woman’s testimony was not recognised as legally binding. Frankly, it was an embarrassment for our first century brothers and sisters, that the resurrection account is pinned on the testimony of women. It is not something that you would write into the story unless, of course, it is actually true (and you are more concerned with the truth than avoiding embarrassment).
Of course, the fact that women are the first to witness to Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible isn’t in and of itself proof that the resurrection happened. It does, however, make it very unlikely the story was fabricated. In other words, it is likely that the account of Jesus’ resurrection is as the Gospel writers say it is. Perhaps then, the real question is not so much: ‘Is this account of Jesus’ resurrection true?’, but ‘What do I do with this account of Jesus’ resurrection?’.
This article has been written in conjunction with the release of our brand new digital evangelism resource: ‘Jesus: History’s Biggest Hoax?’. You can check it out here. Plus, we’ve put together a landing page full of extra reading and resources about the historicity of the resurrection, which you can see here.