In retrospective, it was pretty sacrilegious. It was also one of the more humiliating experiences of my young adult life. I still blame it on naiveté, but I’m not sure that I even find that convincing anymore.
It was my freshman year in college and I took advantage of spring break and headed to my hometown of Jacksonville, IL. Midweek I received a phone call from my home church worship pastor. We had a passion play at the church and Jesus had dropped out. Actually, the person playing Jesus was sick and they wanted me to stand in. So I did.
I spent the weekend in multiple services suspended on a make shift cross that had been covered in fake blood. But after the final performance on Sunday things got a little hairy. Immediately after Easter lunch I was enlisted, nay recruited, alas forced, to suit up in an Easter bunny costume and entertain young children at a family gathering. Within a few hours I went from the role of Savior of the world to hopping around the backyard with plastic eggs.
I really meant no harm, but someone could easily deduce from my young acting portfolio that Easter is nothing more than a cultural festivity inspired by mythological characters. The problem with such a conclusion is that it must overlook a great deal of historical evidence for the person and work of Christ. And that is exactly what some contemporary authors have sought to do.
Aslan and Jesus
Reza Aslan, in his bestselling book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, claims that the gospel writers like Luke were not interested in being historically factual. But the shoe seems to be on the other foot. Among an assortment of historical inaccuracies with Aslan’s own work — the most glaring seems to be his reliance upon an outdated thesis — as pointed out in this Christianity Today review or in this New York Times piece.
But others have taken a more personal concern with Aslan in highlighting his misrepresentation of his own credentials (here’s one article that summarizes the hullabaloo). One point of general consensus seems to be that Aslan’s book is more of a work of historical fiction, more of a novel, than anything of serious scholarship. Zealot serves as an example of his creative writing skills, which is really his area of academic expertise, as Manuel Roig-Franzia summarizes in this Washington Post review, “Aslan is more a storyteller here than a historian.”
The Archeological Witness
So, those looking for a scholarly argument for rejecting the resurrection will need to look elsewhere. And for someone committed to rejecting the resurrection event, they should avoid the work of historian Sir William Ramsay, the first Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology at Oxford University in 1885. He was knighted in 1906, in recognition of his academic accomplishments.
He began his approach to archeology in the Middle East as a skeptic. He disregarded the New Testament, specifically the book of Acts and the gospel of Luke, as irrelevant to his research. But the evidence forced a change of mind. He went on to regard Luke as “a great historian,” describing him as “a writer who set himself to record the facts as they occurred, a strong partisan indeed, but raised above partiality by his perfect confidence that he had only to describe the facts as they occurred.” Ramsay found he could no longer ignore the New Testament, particularly the central person found within its pages.
A Naturalistic Bias?
I once had a skeptic friend share with me that even if I could prove the historicity of the resurrection that they would not believe in God. This makes perfect sense to me if someone is committed to naturalism, a belief that nothing exists outside of nature. Though this belief is itself a faith claim and cannot be proven (read this shockingly honest article by an atheistic philosopher on the topic), this is a popular notion in western culture memorialized in the words of Harvard University professor Carl Sagan, “The cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
For those willing to accept Sagan’s unsubstantiated claim, it shouldn’t be surprising that they would dismiss historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection. But if the resurrection really happened, if Easter is true, then it changes everything.
If Jesus really rose from the dead as he predicted then:
(1) He was who he claimed to be, God in the flesh;
(2) The Jewish faith that anticipated a suffering servant Messiah is fulfilled;
(3) Jesus has authority over death and the grave and his offer of peace with God is validated;
(4) The deistic worldview born in the enlightenment and popular among many of America’s founders is misguided since God entered time and space;
(5) The religion of Islam that denies the crucifixion and subsequently the resurrection is patently wrong;
(6) Atheism is categorically false since God exists and has provided historical evidence of his interaction with creation;
(7) The eastern religions with an impersonal view of God are incorrect since the Creator God has revealed himself in the person of Christ
(8) The postmodern view of truth that places the individual as the sole standard for determining truth is misplaced since Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the standard from which we understand truth.
(9) As Jesus promised, we can have both abundant and eternal life.
(10) This kind of goes without saying, but if Jesus rose from the dead then it proves He is Lord.
Easter changes everything. The Christian worldview begins with the metaphysical belief “In the beginning was the Word” then moves to a historical claim “and the Word became flesh” (John 1). Jesus’s resurrection validates that there is more than nature by demonstrating that the Creator has entered the creation to suffer in our place and offer us peace. This changes everything.
That’s why the Christian need not say “Christ is risen and nothing else matters,” but rather, “Christ has risen: now everything matters.”
[i] W. Ward Gasque, “Sir William M. Ramsay: Archaelogist and New Testament Scholar. A Survey of His Contribution to the Study of the New Testament” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967), accessed online November 25, 2014,
[ii] Sir William Mitchell Ramsey, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 37-38.