Did Jesus Rise? The Extreme Apostle Says Yes, the More Extreme Atheist Says No

Atheists are absolutely sure of something they can’t possibly be sure about.

By David Mills Published on April 14, 2017

St. Paul sounds extreme sometimes, but not so extreme as some modern atheists. Here’s Paul: “If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless and your faith is groundless.” He writes that to the Christians in Corinth, some of whom seem to have been claiming that the dead don’t rise again.

This really upset him. He hammers the point home over and over again. Like this a couple verses later: “If Christ has not risen, all your faith is a delusion and you are back in your sins.” And, he adds, “those who gone to their rest in Christ have been lost.”

For Paul, it’s the Resurrection or nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead after the Romans killed him, things are great. If He didn’t rise, it’s all a huge waste of time and we look like idiots.

He sounds extreme, at least to people like me who don’t like putting all our eggs in one basket and who will never go all in when playing poker. Besides, Christianity offers some nice things, like a community to join and a good way to put your life together. Why risk that on one historical claim?

The Atheist’s Extreme Argument

The modern atheists, though, they’re even more extreme than he is. I googled atheists and resurrection and got an article in which an atheist claimed that Jesus didn’t exist at all. That’s a little silly. Even completely secular historians believe that back in the first century a man named Jesus made a splash and was probably crucified. The evidence shows that.

More interesting is the way the atheist writer dismissed any idea that Jesus might have been the man the four gospels describe. He rejects the idea the way you’d ignore the short guy at the park who claims to have been an All Pro running back for the New York Jets. First, there’s no evidence, and second, the whole idea’s absurd.

As the man Adam brought us death, the man Jesus must bring us resurrection from death. We sinful people are like seeds, Paul says, that have to be put in the ground and die before they grow.

To make his point, our atheist writer takes a term from theologians of 100 years ago. They separated the “historical Jesus” from “the Christ of faith.” We may know almost nothing about the first, they said, but who cares? The second’s the one that matters. We can have a life-changing experience with the second. The Christ of faith may not exist, but he can make us better, more “authentic” human beings.

Our atheist writes about the “easily-dismissed ‘Christ of Faith’ (the divine Jesus who walked on water).” The gospels, he says, are “filled with mythical and non-historical information.” He means anything miraculous, the Resurrection especially.

He thinks all those “mythical” stories can be easily dismissed because men don’t walk on water and men don’t rise from the dead. They don’t, ever. If someone named, oh, Luke tells you that the government executed a man and three days later he walked out of his grave, he’s either lying or crazy. Because men don’t walk out of their graves, ever, period.

We Will Rise With Jesus

That’s what I meant by calling the atheists extreme. They’re absolutely sure of something they can’t possibly be sure about. How can they know that once in human history, a man didn’t walk on water and rise from the dead? Maybe they think the evidence doesn’t prove it. Fair enough. But they can’t say it didn’t happen because it can’t happen.

This brings us back to St. Paul. Why does he keep saying that our faith depends on the historical reality that the man Jesus died and rose again? (By the way, if you want a good basic argument for the historical truth of the Resurrection, search “Kreeft” and “evidence for the resurrection of Christ.”)

Paul gives the Corinthians a few reasons. One is simply that it happened. The most compelling for me is that as the man Adam brought us death, the man Jesus must bring us resurrection from death. We sinful people are like seeds, Paul says, that have to be put in the ground and die before they grow.

And then he tells us this: “What is sown corruptible, rises incorruptible; what is sown unhonored, rises in glory; what is sown in weakness, is raised in power.” In short: because Jesus died and rose again, when we die we will rise with Him. We will find ourselves the people our Father always wanted us to be, and the saints we want to be.


For a reflection on the movement from Holy Thursday to Easter as the Apostles experienced it, see David’s For the Apostles, it had all gone to hell.


Holy Week at The Stream

For Palm Sunday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s Holy Week: Now It Begins, Now It All Begins
For Holy Week: Jennifer Hartline’s Has God Finally Met His Match?
For Holy Week: David Limbaugh’s Good News and the Gospels
For Maundy Thursday: David Mills’sWhy Jesus Washed the Apostles’ Feet, and Why We Do It Too
For Good Friday: Deacon Keith Fournier’s The Connection Between Good Friday and the Church
For Good Friday: John Zmirak’s Have a Bleak and Blessed Good Friday
For Good Friday:: Anika Smith’s Man of Sorrows, Carry Our Grief
For Holy Saturday: Liberty McArtor’s God’s Ongoing Story is Full of the Unexpected
For Easter day: Esther O’Reilly’s Not Without Witness: An Easter Reflection
For Easter day: David Mills’s Did Jesus Rise? The Extreme Apostle Says Yes, the More Extreme Atheist Says No

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  • Wayne Cook

    Josh McDowell wrote a book called Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

    Frankly, nowadays, atheists are as boring at week old papers. I had a very short conversation once with Richard Dawkins, who had Tweeted, “I’ve never seen any evidence for the existence of God.” On the face of it, for a faithful man, disturbing.

    I sat for about 15 minutes, when suddenly the thought struck me. Dawkins didn’t say, “God doesn’t exist”, rather, he couldn’t find any visible evidence for the will behind creation or anything else. Dawkin’s issue is with the visual connection of a spirit and his earthly subsistence.

    I replied, “Dawkins, you’ve got your eyes tightly closed…try opening…” whereupon he cursed me in one word and blocked me. I don’t mind the cursing, but the cut off of discussion reminded me of the weakness of the position he and other unbelievers hold. Not only lack of faith, but resistance to evidence…which is clearly there, empirically solid. Pride and often anger are the blinders atheists wear. Both are emotional attitudes, not scientfic conclusions.

    • mbabbitt

      You can’t find the invisible many by looking for him, by using the faculty of direct sight. You can look for signs of him – footsteps in the carpet, etc. Or you can listen for his movements. Or feel the breeze as he walks by. But looking for him with direct sight ensures failure – and this is the atheist argument and why it is so boring.

    • Autrey Windle

      “boring as week old papers”… I wish I’d said that! If Christians are right (and we are) then what person really wants to risk the truth we attempt to share with them about the condition of present and future mankind? There are people who are so jaded that they do not want unconditional love (agape) because it would mean letting go of the insane comfort of bitterness and hatred for whatever wrongs have been perpetrated against their earthbound bodies. I often tell agnostic and self-proclaimed atheist acquaintances that I will miss them in Heaven…followed by my sweetest tender ‘the-Lord-loves-even-you’ look.

      • Wayne Cook

        <3 In the real world, that's 99% of what happens. Well said, My friend!

    • samton909

      Exactly right. ANYONE can be a skeptic. It takes no skill at all. Atheists often remind me of flat earth people. No matter what you say, no matter the evidence, they simply refuse to believe any of it, because of an attitude, as you say. Furthermore, they act more like fundamentalists than fundamentalists themselves. They are generally angry, pushily certain of their attitudes, and cannot and will not listen to anything else. A bit like fanatical islamists, actually. They are the opposite of what they think they are.

      • Wayne Cook

        That’s the thing…people WOULD rather believe a lie…which is why we as a nation are so close to the brink!

  • heywood_g

    You cannot count three days and three nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. Even if you count parts of days, you still come up short. Try it for yourself. Scripture tells us Jesus was put in the tomb right at sunset, but some count a few minutes before sunset as day one. Friday night would be one night; the daylight portion of Saturday would be the second day and Saturday night would make the second night. Now if Jesus rose Sunday morning after sunrise we might count that as day three, but where is the third night? It just is not there! And that is stretching the case by counting a few minutes of daylight at the beginning and end as two of the three days.

    • ericdijon

      Amazing that you put all that together. But for what reason? I think as a result, we only know a bit more about you.

    • eddiestardust

      2,000 years ago, that’s how they counted days!

    • Serena

      The Bible doesn’t actually say Jesus was crucified on a Friday. It says it was the day of preparation, which could be understood as coming before a High Sabbath, the Passover feast. And there are whole groups of Christianity that observe Good Thursday as the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.

    • Heywood, you simply don’t understand ancient Hebrew idiom. To them, ANY part of a day counted as a day and a night, and that is primarily who the Gospels were originally written to, and by. Because of that, if you’re going to honestly investigate the story (ANY story, really) you have to first understand the idioms being used. Because of Hebrew idiom, the stretch of time involved could have been as little as 24 hours and 2 seconds (one from each of the other days involved) and they would still have agreed on it being three days and three nights. No, it’s not how we do it, but it IS how they did it. If you’re going to understand what a writer meant by something you can’t get there by imposing your own expectations on the text; you have to use THE WRITER’s intentions, not your own.

      By the way, according to our measure, the time involved was most likely approximately 36 hours that Jesus was in the grave (from sunset to midnight on Friday, all day Saturday, and from midnight to sunrise on Sunday). To the ancient Hebrews, who thought inclusively in matters of stretches of time, that would be three days and three nights.

      Oh, and the stone? The one Gospel writer who was actually present at the scene used a Greek word, regarding the stone, that means that it had been taken up and away. One could translate it as saying that the stone sailed away from the tomb. A reasonably accurate portrayal of this interpretation is used in the movie, Risen.

  • ericdijon

    Do we think that Saint Paul lacked pilgrim qualities? I have to trust that following his revelation and baptism, he surely toured Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30) on his first return to the city with the same faith awe as a 21st century pilgrim. I think this underscores your point of St. Paul’s saying “that our faith depends on the historical reality” entirely because St Luke witnessed and recorded Paul’s intake of historical reality. St Luke corroborates.

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