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Christian beliefs about Jesus' resurrection

Quotations and overview

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  • George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury & spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion:
    •  "Belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith. It is the Christian faith." London Times, 1992-APR-19.

    • "While we can be absolutely sure that Jesus lived and that he was certainly crucified on the cross, we cannot with the same certainty say that we know he was raised by God from the dead." The Mail newspaper 1999-AUG-04. 6 Cary became at the center of a media storm over the resurrection because of this quotation. Opposition Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe said that if the Archbishop "in any way leaves the Resurrection open to doubt, then that is the ultimate betrayal." Archbishop Cary commented later that he had been misquoted. He had actually said that there is enough historical evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus lived; however there is not the same amount of evidence that he was resurrected.
  • John S. Spong, retired Episcopal bishop:
    • "Jesus...was...placed into a common grave, and covered a very short time only some unmarked bones remained. Even the bones were gone before too long. Nature rather efficiently reclaims its own resources." 4

    • "A deceased man did not walk out of his grave physically alive three days after his execution by crucifixion."

  • Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-14): "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the death, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain."

  • Statement of the World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997:
    "Viewed as the ultimate victory over the powers of sin and death, the resurrection of the Lord is not only an historical event but also the sign of God's power over all the forces which can keep us from his love and goodness. It is a victory not only for Christ himself but also for all those united with him (1 Peter 1:3f). It is a victory which marks the beginning of a new era (John 20:17).

    The resurrection is the ultimate expression of the Father's gift of reconciliation and unity in Christ through the Spirit. It is a sign of the unity and reconciliation which God wills for the entire creation."  2

  • Rev. Steve Huber of St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington DC: "The truth of the Resurrection shouldn't be the real battleground. I think what we want to do is try and rise above that and ask, 'What is the metaphoric truth of Easter?' The real power of Easter is the transformation that, as Christians, we believe continues to happen in people's lives....If Easter is about proving the veracity of some historical event that happened 2,000 years ago, that misses the point."
  • Anon:
    "On the Resurrection, however, no eyewitness wrote anything--not Jesus, not Peter, not Mary, not any of the Twelve, nor any of the Seventy, nor any of the Five Hundred. All we have is Paul, who saw nothing but a 'revelation,' and who mentions no other kind of experience or evidence being reported by anyone."

    "On the Resurrection, no neutral or hostile witness or contemporary wrote anything--not Joseph, not Caiaphas, not Gamaliel, not Agrippa, not Pilate, not Lysias, not Sergius, not anyone alive at the time, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman."

    "On the Resurrection, no critical historian documents a single detail, or even the claim itself, until centuries later, and then only by Christian apologists who can only cite the New Testament as their source (and occasionally bogus documents like the letter sent by Jesus to Abgar that Eusebius tries to pass off as authentic).

    On the Resurrection, no physical evidence of any kind was produced--no coins, no inscriptions, no documentary papyri, no perpetual miracles. And everything that followed in history was caused by the belief in that resurrection, not the resurrection itself--and we know an actual resurrection is not the only possible cause of a belief in a resurrection. So, again, we still have no eyewitness testimony to the Resurrection."  5


The Bible teaches that Jesus was executed by the occupying Roman Army at the time of a Passover in Jerusalem. Most theologians believe that this happened during the springtime of either 30 or 33 CE. A common belief is that he died on a Friday afternoon and was resurrected sometime before sunrise on the following Sunday morning, perhaps a day or a day and a half later. This was when, according to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene (alone or in the company of other women; the gospels differ) visited the tomb. Most, but not all, Christians believe that he was resurrected (either under his own power or as a result of God's intervention) in his original body.

When normal people die, their heart stops pumping blood through their brain. Brain death occurs, and various degenerative processes soon begin; the body starts to rot; rigor mortis sets in. The processes are irreversible; they never come back to life. According to the gospels, Jesus remained dead for perhaps 33 hours or more -- from Friday afternoon until early on Sunday morning. This would have been a sufficient interval to "leave no doubt as to the reality of His death." 1 Yet, he was described as having returned to life, leaving the tomb, and subsequently appearing before various groups of his followers. This, of course, would be a miracle.

Ever since the first century CE, alternative explanations have been offered to account for the stories in the Gospels. Muslims, for example, believe that Jesus' crucifixion never happened. Rather, another person was executed in Jesus' place.

Alternative explanations have been promoted by individuals who deny that the resurrection miracle happened. They believe that most, but not all, of the components of the gospel stories are correct: that Jesus was actually attached to a stake or cross by the Roman occupying army, and was believed to have died. He was removed and taken away by his supporters. But other components are believed to be myth, fiction, and perhaps a pious fraud.

Beliefs about Jesus death and resurrection differ:

  • For almost 2 millennia, the Christian Church has taught that Jesus was crucified, died, and was bodily resurrected (i.e. returned to life in his original body) about a day and a half later. This has long been one of the church's foundational beliefs, along with the inerrancy of the Bible, and the virgin birth, the atonement, the future second coming of Jesus, etc. Many Christians regard belief in the resurrection as the central belief of the church.
  • Almost all Muslims, who total in excess of 1.6 billion believers worldwide, believe that Jesus was not crucified as described in the New Testament. They feel that such a great prophet of God would not suffer such a humiliating death. They believe that he did not die on the cross, and that he has not died since. Rather, he was one of a very few persons who ascended bodily to Paradise. (The Muslim Paradise is somewhat similar to the Christian Heaven).
  • A few Muslims believe that Jesus survived his crucifixion, and later died on earth of natural causes.
  • The best-selling novel in history "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown was on the New York Times best seller list for 136 consecutive weeks until 2005-NOV. It generated considerable interest among religious seekers. Brown's tale revolves around Jesus having survived the crucifixion, marrying Mary Magdalene and going into hiding.
  • Gary Habermas, a historian who chairs the Liberty University philosophy and theology department, a Fundamentalist educational facility, has written 13 books about the Resurrection. His review of 2,200 scholarly articles and books published about the resurrection in the past 30 years found that about 75% of New Testament scholars accept the resurrection as a fact. 3
  • Some progressive Christians, secularists, etc. suggest that the crucifixion happened, but that the resurrection didn't:
    • They suggest that Jesus was executed, and his body thrown into a pit for scavengers to eat. They do not believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection. Many suspect that his reappearances to his followers after his death were a form of individual and mass hallucination.

      Burial in a pit was the normal fate of crucified victims. The entire process of crucifixion was designed by the Roman army as a terror weapon against rebellious slaves and insurrectionists. One factor in the process was particularly horrific to Jews: the Romans refused a proper burial for their vidtims.  1
    • Others suggest that the disciples moved the body from the tomb to some other secret location.
    • Or, there could have been confusion over the location of the tomb where Jesus was buried. The women followers of Jesus may have gone to the wrong place. 7
    • Finally, many suggest that the entire resurrection story -- the tomb, the visitation by the women, Jesus appearance to the disciples, his ascension, etc. are pure myths, taken from the many god-man resurrection myths of other religions in the Mediterranean and Middle East at the time.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J.S. Spong, "Resurrection, Myth or Reality? A Bishops Search for the Origins of Christianity", Harper San Francisco, CA, (1994) Page 50. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  2. "Toward a Common Date for Easter," World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation, 1997 at:
  3. Gary Habermas, "Resurrection Research From 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?." Journal for the Study of the New Historical Jesus, 2005-JUN; 3: Pages 135  to 153.
  4. J.S. Spong, "Resurrection, Myth or Reality? A Bishops Search for the Origins of Christianity", Harper San Francisco, CA, (1994) Page 241. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  5. From a 2006-MAY-15 review by an customer of the book by Michael R.Licona: "Paul meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim debate on the Resurrection," Baker Books, (2006). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. "Archbishop of Canterbury: Doubts Resurrection of Jesus,"
  7. Norman Geisler, "Alternative theories of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Part 1," 1999, at:

Some site navigation links:

Home > Christianity > History, Beliefs, Trends, etc > Beliefs > Resurrection > here

Home > Christianity > History, Beliefs, Trends, etc > Beliefs > Cardinal beliefs > Resurrection > here

Home > Christianity > Christian personalitiesJesus > Resurrection > here

Home > Religious information > GodJesus > Resurrection > here

or Home > Spirituality > GodJesus > Resurrection > here

Copyright 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Essay last updated: 2010-JUN-14
Written by. B.A. Robinson

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