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As I reflect on this Easter holiday, as a spiritually young person, I thought of the idea that's often repeated: that if the resurrection of Jesus were not true, then Christianity and the Church would not have lasted.

Given this one "method of proof", I was wondering: couldn't we then say the same about Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, which have lasted for many, many years too?

So, this makes me think that the argument, while very intriguing, is flawed.

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    A decent question. I think the short answer would be persecution: the early Christians faced a lot of persecution, so it's incredulous to say they would've promoted what they all knew was a lie. Even though other religions have also faced heavy persecution, did they do so in the first few decades of that religion? – curiousdannii Apr 22 at 3:55
  • I think it's related to the issue of "falling away". Many Jews at the time were disappointed that Jesus wasn't a political messiah or a king who restored the physical glories of the Davidic kingdom. They must've thought Jesus was a lying rabble-rouser and left. – AngelusVastator Apr 23 at 1:39
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The comment by @curiousdannii points us in the right direction.

Origins of Major religions.

1) Judaism also calls on its believer's to remember the miracles that set them free from Egypt (an event I believe happened). They were led by Moses, a literate man raised and educated by Egyptian royals. Under Moses, they survived several military attacks, and his disciple, Joshua, was then a great military leader who conquered a large territory. Clearly the success of Judaism is dependent upon a foundational period with a charismatic leader and then a military genius.

2) Buddhism was started by a prince who had the opportunity to hire teachers and study religious ideas. Siddartha was scientific in his approach to religion, trying ascetism of various kinds, abandoning that which did not work. His ideas are clearly the work of a first rate intellect. His rise to prominence required decades, during which time there is no evidence that he faced great persecution.

3) Islam was started by Mohammed, who began a lengthy and successful series of military conquests, and was succeeded by others who continued in that path. During its first century, Islam conquered half of the lands along the Meditteranean sea and Persia to the east.

4) Hinduism's origins are shrouded in mystery. Since no one knows who started it or under what conditions, no conclusions can be drawn related to this question.

5) Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism, did suffer opposition by the leaders of his time, but eventually persuaded a king to follow his teachings, thus cementing a place in society for his ideas.

6) Christianity, by contrast was started by uneducated people:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

The Romans launched ten major persecutions against the Church, lasting for over 250 years. From the very beginning, its followers were on the run. Whatever sustained it, it was not the same as what sustained these other religions during their formative years.

No return to Judaism.

There is a second line of reasoning as powerful as the first. Jesus claimed to be God the Son, but also one with the Father. If he did not rise from the dead, then either God was dead, and there would no longer any reason to worship him, or he was not really God, and there would be no reason to worship him. That would leave Jesus as:

  • a healer, like Elijah and Elisha
  • a teacher, like Ezra or Moses
  • a paragon of wisdom, like Solomon or Daniel
  • a prophet, like Isaiah
  • a righteous sufferer, like Job

Considering that - apart from claims to divinity - Jesus’ teachings are merely a distillation or restatement of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, what do you have? No reason not to return to Judaism. The fact that the church, which began by worshiping at the temple, did not just dissolve back into temple worship and become a reform movement within Judaism is proof that it had something distinctive. The only distinctive things Christianity had (at first) to make it different from Judaism were the incarnation of God, the substitutionary atonement on the cross, and the resurrection. You need the resurrection to prove the first two, so all you really have is the resurrection.

That is why Paul preached “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2)

Partial Counterexample: Sikhism:

The history of Sikhism is a counterexample to this apologetic argument, because it resembles Christianity in some respects.

  • They suffered severe persecution by the Mughal empire, followed by the British
  • Many of their lead Gurus were executed
  • After centuries of suffering, they acquired political power
  • They preach radical equality of all castes...
  • ... equality of men and women, including the foundation of schools for women
  • They forbid the practice of Sati (wife burning)
  • Preach tolerance of Muslims and Hindus
  • Hold regular community meals where all people of all levels of society and all races are invited to eat for free

The most important difference is that Sikhs strongly discourage talk of myths, magic and miracles. Their religion focuses on ethics, generosity, morality and equality. Thus they have no supernatural backstory to be invalidated, so there was no problem that the death of a guru promising resurrection or some other miraculous claim could invalidate their beliefs. The teachings on equality alone surely earned their religion many followers. Thus Sikhism is not a real counterexample, but it comes closest among the major world religions.

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Each religion has a certain fundamental logic, which once discredited it cannot recover. For Judaism it is the belief that the creator God upholds his Abrahamic covenant with Abraham's descendants. For Islam is that the prophet Mohammad is the true prophet revealing further teachings than what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus. For Christianity is that Jesus is God's son whose Father has raised from the dead and who is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father and who will come again at the end of time to judge the resurrected human beings for judgment (to be consigned either to eternal life or eternal damnation). All this teaching about Jesus is easily and clearly verified from the New Testament (read plainly within the context of 1st century AD; no abstract philosophy and allegorical interpretation needed).

Since Christians believe that God intervened directly into human affairs using historically verifiable methods (Jesus is fully human, not a ghost, not an angel, not a mythical being) the historical witness of Jesus (the Gospels and the letters of Paul) can also be historically verified. The fundamental logic of Christianity says that Jesus is the first fruit of new phase of redemptive work of God the Father, a.k.a. the New Covenant and that the Holy Spirit is given to the members of this New Covenant so the Holy Spirit (the spirit of Jesus) can then transform the members so they will be acceptable to God and become glorified (getting new resurrected bodies) like Jesus. Without Jesus himself resurrected in the manner that New Covenant members will get at the end of age, there is no Christianity. In other words, without a deposit (the first fruit), there is no currency in the "loan" (aka promise) that God made to the new covenant members.

Jesus's miracles recorded in the Gospels were a careful select samples meant to demonstrate how God the Father is with Jesus, showing that God is above all powers of nature, sickness, and ultimately death (that's why the Pharisees kept asking Jesus by whose power his miracles were done). The historically verifiable witness of Jesus's resurrection is to show how God the Father has kept his promise to redeem humanity from the power of sin (death) by FIRST raising Jesus who is now living eternally with the Father, and who is STILL working among us through his spirit (the Holy Spirit) to transform our fleshly hearts into spiritual hearts so at the end of the age, we will be eligible to be resurrected BODILY just like Jesus. Without demonstration of this power, there is no basis for Christians' hope to be resurrected like that.

That's why apologists including the writer of the gospels themselves took pain to demonstrate that fundamental logic of Christianity how Jesus was REALLY resurrected BODILY from the dead. If that resurrection historical event is discredited, the center of the structure collapses and Christianity will degenerate into its parent religion, Judaism, still waiting for its own Messiah. And Judaism itself will collapse when it can be shown that there is no creator God let alone the God who established the Mosaic covenant with Israel. Of course, it is relatively easier to discredit a historically more recent event (Jesus) since by that time were were smack in the middle of a historically verifiable civilization, and some Christians believe that God timed it on purpose. We can imagine some apologists saying that God didn't send Jesus in the 21st century because it would have been too obvious (the technology of 21st century would leave no room for faith).

  • Just to clarify, then in Heaven we (if we get there) are not merely spirits, but we have a full body, given the demonstration of Jesus's bodily resurrection? With regards to your last sentence about God not sending Jesus in the 21st century because it would have been too obvious, why would apologists feel that too obvious is a bad thing? Why test people's faith, when God can make it obvious for them to see? – user45280 Apr 22 at 21:13
  • The answer to your first question (whether full body) is a lot more definitive than the answer to your second question (why not obvious), which is YES, it will be a full physical, but better than our current physical body. All mainstream Christian denominations teach this, as well as in the Apostles Creed ("I believe in the resurrection of the body"). Sample Biblical support here. About why not too obvious, here's a good article about it – GratefulDisciple Apr 22 at 21:51
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If the resurrection of Christ Jesus had never happened, then all his followers would have had all their hopes crushed. They supposed him to be the promised Messiah of the Hebrew scriptures, having a literal 'take' on the prophecies about the Kingdom of David being restored. They were expecting Jesus to overthrow the hated Roman yolk and re-establish the earthly Kingdom of God.

It took the resurrection and his ascension into heaven to convince them that Jesus was in process of doing something far more spectacular, something far more global. It was only after his resurrection and his explanations of the Hebrew scriptures in relation to himself that they understood his parables (about going off to a 'far country' for a long time, leaving his servants to do business on his behalf etc). They also began to grasp that his death was necessary; it had not been a mistake. He explained the scriptures as to why it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise on the third day - Luke 24:19-27.

Had there been no resurrection, the defeated disciples might have re-grouped, and re-thought their situation. They might have continued for a while as Jewish people in the Mosaic covenant, still talking about Jesus, yet for what purpose? They would still have been ridiculed as having a dead leader who was no more than a common criminal, a failed, would-be-Messiah. It took the resurrection to turn the shame of the cross into God's triumph over sin, death and the devil. As one Christian put it, "What Death did to Jesus is nothing compared to what Jesus did to Death!"

Those early disciples began to realize that Jesus' resurrection proved him to be the Son of God, as written in Romans chapter 1 verses 2-4:

The gospel of God, which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead...

No resurrection, no Son of God - in other words, a liar who failed totally to do what he had talked about. Resurrection proved Jesus to be the Son of God, of the seed of David in the flesh, no-one like him either before or since. Thus the Christians lost all their fear and burst on to the world scene, spreading the good news about who Jesus is and what the power of the resurrection means for those who put their faith in him.

Christianity, you see, is not just "another religion". It is unique in showing God's initiative in breaking through into history, so identifying with mankind that the Son of God becomes man, dying deliberately to be the only perfect sacrifice for sin ever given; and because Christ died sinless, Death could not hold him, for Death can only claim sinners (Romans 6:12). Christ's resurrection is the crux of history, when seen the way those first century Christians saw it.

H.G. Wells did not see Christ the way those first Christians did, yet even he said,

As a historian, this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history.

C.S. Lewis challenged the opinion of people like H.G. Wells who, in "Outline of History" said that Jesus had made no claim to divinity. Lewis demolished that view and quoted from Free Churchman John Duncan (1796-1870) the 'trilemma' argument;

Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.

That is the significance of the Romans 1 quote I made earlier - to be the Son of God is to be divine and Jesus is God incarnate. That only became clear after his resurrection, when doubting Thomas saw the risen Christ and exclaimed, "My Lord and my God" - John 20:28. Were that not true, Christ's followers might have limped on for a while after his death, but a dead saviour is no Saviour at all, and thus their religion would have had no salvation in the person of Christ to offer to anyone, not even to themselves.

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"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith. In that case, we are also exposed as false witnesses about God."- 1 Corinthians 15:14-15.

The Apostle Paul literally recommends you to abandon Christianity if it were to be discovered that the resurrection was a hoax.

FYI, the gospel outlined in Paul's 1 Corinthians 15:1:8 was one of the earliest creeds deriving from the oral traditions of early Christianity (1st century Palestine/Judea was an oral culture).

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