The Lost Art of Resurrection

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“How come nobody resurrects anymore!” You hear it all the time. A church is only as good as its padded kneelers, its reliably saliva-free holy water, and its ability to bring about a modern miracle from time to time.

And don’t think that bringing people back from the dead is a thing of the past! It was commanded by Jesus himself, who knew a thing or two about how the whole resurrection thing worked.

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions…Heal the sick, raise the dead. —Matthew 10:5,8

Churches are pretty confident about the healing the sick part. Prayers for the ill and infirmed abound, though God evidently has a longer wait time than your HMO’s GI specialist as he often needs cure requests repeated on multiple Sundays.

But why are churches so reluctant to try their hand at resurrections. If any church could find a successful revival incantation, its congregation would soon include most of the entire world.

But most of us know the likelihood of raising the dead (I mean the dead-dead, not the near-dead, medically revivable types) is 0.000%. So part of the problem of a church even trying is that no one would believe you if you succeeded. How do we know that? Let’s look at what happened to our most famous resurrected case study: Jesus of Nazareth.

After seeing the empty tomb, here’s what Mark said happened.

The women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone.
—Mark 16:8

None of us would have heard about the resurrection if Mark’s version was not totally contradicted by the other three gospels:

So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
—Matthew 28:8

Later, when Jesus showed up, it was not just Thomas who doubted:

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. —Matthew 28:17

That’s right, they saw Him and were still doubtful. I just can’t see how, if a preacher I knew came back to life, I would hang out with him, worship him, but in the back of my mind be saying, “Meh, it’s probably not him.”

While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have ye here any meat?” —Luke 24:41

“Verily I say unto you, what’s in the fridge?”

Furthermore, on the Road to Emmaus, two disciples walk and talk with what we are told is the risen Jesus, yet through it all they don’t recognize him. Again suspicious.

Adding even more to the suspect nature of the reporting of the resurrected Jesus is the blatant inconsistencies of the evangelists. Of all the Crucifixion and Resurrection inconsistencies, and there are many, one of the worst may be the list of who saw the resurrected Jesus. As so much of the religion relies on this supernatural event, detailing who the witnesses were would seem like a high priority. The reality reveals just the opposite.

Screen shot 2016-03-24 at 8.55.12 PMA more likely explanation of events, like the accounts of Elvis’ return in the late 1970s, comes from William Greg’s 1875 book The Creed of Christendom:

We may believe that the minds of the disciples, excited by the disappearance of the body, and the announcement by the women of his resurrection, mistook some passing individual for their crucified Lord, and that from such an origin multiplied rumors of his re-appearance arose and spread.

In addition to the question of veracity, it’s important to ask what any resurrection, including Jesus’, actually proves.

Even though Acts 26:23 insists that Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead, the Bible has over eight resurrections that predate Jesus’ return to the land of the living, and two that followed.

  • The widow of Zarephath’s son (resurrected by Elijah) —1 Kings 17:17–24
  • The Shunammite’s son (Elisha) —2 Kings 4:32–37
  • The corpse thrown into Elisha’s tomb (Elisha’s bones) —2 Kings 13:21
  • The widow of Nain’s son (Jesus) —Luke 7:11-15
  • Jairus’ daughter (Jesus) —Luke 8:49-56
  • Lazarus (Jesus) —John 11:39–44
  • The post-crucifixion saints of Jerusalem (Spontaneous and simultaneous revivals) —Matthew 27:51-53
  • Dorcas of Joppa (Peter) —Acts 9:36-43
  • Eutychus (Paul) —Acts 20:9–12

If resurrecting proves you are God worthy of adoration or that all your teachings are true, then why does no one worship Lazarus? It seems that either your teachings are without peer or they’re not. Whether you ate meat after you died or not should maybe be of secondary importance. Still it’s a pretty cool trick.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.

The Original Blasphemy Ban

Since the release of “Innocence of Muslims”—the laughable (yet surprisingly unfunny) excuse for a movie that actually makes the film Blues Brothers 2000 look like The Blues Brothers—some Muslim leaders have sought to work with the U.N. to make blasphemy illegal everywhere in the world. This has provoked a lively discussion about freedom of speech vs. freedom from blasphemy.

In the U.S. many people, including President Obama, appreciate that our freedom of speech includes the freedom to speak our minds about the religions of the world without any government interference. In some other countries, where governments routinely control what qualifies as allowable speech, there is more of an expectation that governments should punish citizens for using insulting religious speech.

But let’s not get the mistaken notion that punishment for blasphemy is a uniquely Muslim idea. The Bible clearly comes down on the side of freedom FROM blasphemy as opposed to freedom of speech.

And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. —Leviticus 24:16

and this

Thus saith the Lord God, “Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me.” —Ezekiel 20:27

And it’s not just the Old Testament that highlights blasphemy. Jesus himself warns:

Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. —Matthew 12:31 

No one likes to be insulted, but why is it that only one institution, religion, has its own name for insults hurled against it. I don’t call it blasphemy when someone berates my kid’s soccer team or ridicules the all-time best movie trilogy ever made on planet Earth!

The difficult thing about blasphemy is that it is, like beauty, obscenity, and an appreciation for celebrity knitting, all in the mind of the beholder. There is no way to define exactly when an honest complaint or critique of religion become offensive enough to reach the level of blasphemy. A mormon may take offense at any reference to magic underwear, I mean “sacred garments,” and a Scientologist may violently disagree with my positive review of the latest Nicole Kidman film.

So when you hear Muslims talking about the need for anti-blasphemy laws in the U.S., remember that all this talk of blasphemy began in a book that predates the Koran. It took a few thousand years for most in the Western world to accept the idea of freedom of speech over freedom from blasphemy, so maybe there is hope that more people in predominantly Muslim countries will come around to this way of thinking, ideally before the next millennium is through.

Michael Morris is the author of Bible Funmentionables: A Lighthearted Look at the Wildest Verses You’ve NEVER Been Told!, which features all of the shocking and hilarious verses that your minister, rabbi, or charismatic cult leader is afraid to preach.