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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Doesn't The Resurrection Story Contain Mythological Elements?

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Doesn’t The Resurrection Story Contain Mythological Elements?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 3

One of the objections we find with respect to the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus is the so-called legendary, or mythological, elements that it contains. We have such things as angels descending from heaven, a stone rolled away from the tomb, an earthquake that frightens the guards into fainting, and a resurrection of a dead man.

All of these things are incredible for us to believe in the twenty-first century. To many, these things are the stuff of legends, not history. Therefore, it is not intellectually acceptable for us to believe what the gospels say occurred on that first Easter. Another explanation, that rejects these mythical elements, must be found.

Response to the Legendary Elements Idea

There are a number of responses in which we can make to the idea the account of Jesus’ resurrection contains elements that are legendary. They are as follow.

1. Modern-Day Humanity Can Believe the Accounts

The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead are not impossible for modern human beings to believe. While there are miracles, they are of a physical variety; they are not of a psychological sort. In other words, the people responded to these miraculous events in the way in which we would expect. There was fear and unbelief from Jesus’ own disciples; they did not readily or easily accept the idea that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They responded the same way that you or I would respond had we seen the risen Christ.

Thus, in these accounts, Romans acted like Romans, Jews like Jews, men like men, and women like women. The behavior by these various groups is exactly what we would expect if the resurrection did occur.

2. There Are No Mythical Elements in the Gospels

The story of Jesus’ resurrection, as told in the four gospels, lacks any of the mythical characteristics that we find in later stories. The accounts in the New Testament are sober, restrained, lacking in legendary or mythical details. For example, there is no description of what occurred the moment Jesus came back from the dead. If the story were made-up, this is something we would expect to be told.

3. Legends Arose Later

Legendary elements did arise later that added details that are not recorded in the New Testament. For example, the Gospel of Peter, written in the mid-second century, says the following:

Now in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers, two by two, in every watch, were keeping guard, there rang out a loud voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulcher. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulcher started of itself to roll and gave way to the side, and the sepulcher was opened, and both the young men entered in. When now the soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders—for they were there to assist at the watch. And while they were relating what they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulcher, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, “You have preached to them that sleep,” and from the cross there was heard the answer, “Yea.” (The Gospel of Peter 35-42)

Here we have obvious legendary elements. We find there are angels, who are as tall as the clouds, Jesus being even larger than the angels, a cross that follows Jesus and the angels out of the tomb and then talks!

All of these are obviously legendary additions to the gospel story. Yet, we have so such legendary details given to us in the four gospels. Consequently, there is every reason to believe that the gospels tell us exactly what did occur, miracles and all.

Summary – Question 3
Doesn’t the Resurrection Story Contain Mythological Elements?

One ongoing argument against the resurrection of Christ consists of the so-called mystical elements in the four gospels. The idea that the world in which Jesus lived, a world of spirits, angels and miraculous events, is not the real world in which we live in. Consequently, these mythical elements are seen as a fatal objection to the accounts of the resurrection.

However, this assumes the supernatural does not exist. This is something we are not able to conclude. If God exists, He is certainly able to perform miracles if He so chooses. This includes the miracle of the resurrection of Christ.

There is something else that must be considered. While there are miracles recorded in the four gospels they are not of the psychological variety. In other words, we are not expected to believe that people would act contrary to their nature. Their response is exactly what we would expect it to be if they truly saw someone who had been resurrected from the dead. When legends about Jesus’ resurrection did arise, they came at a time when we would expect; about one hundred years after the events took place. Before that time there were eyewitnesses, and then a generation of people who heard the eyewitnesses testify to what took place. It was not until the second generation of believers died out that legends arose and became widely circulated and believed.

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