For quite a while now I’ve been trying to hammer out some kind of analogy or thought experiment to help deal with Christians who think the Bible is enough justification for their beliefs, to illustrate how ridiculous it is.
If 4 of your good friends came up to you separately and told you that two days earlier they’d seen a man rise from the dead, would you believe them? I’m gonna be honest, I’d think there was something in it. Maybe there was someone who everyone thought was dead, but actually it turns out they weren’t, or they were just injured or something. (In fact something very similar happened last Easter to a friend of mine from the pub, believe it or not. He hadn’t been seen for a week or so, and then one of his crazy neighbours phoned the pub on Good Friday and said they’d seen a body being carried out of the house, so word gradually got around and everyone was in the pub on Easter Sunday, mourning, when he showed up alive and well. Now he’s nicknamed ‘The Phoenix’ by some, but that’s a tangent.) I probably wouldn’t just dismiss it completely, but I wouldn’t be convinced that it actually happened.
Back to our hypothetical 4 witnesses, would you hear their account and then conclude: “Hmm, clearly this man was the Son of God and obviously when he died it was a symbol of his victory over death and only a fool could deny that believing in this sacrifice is the only way to get into heaven because we’re too sinful on our own”? Of course not! It’s a complete non-sequitor. None of those things follow from the account that a man rose from the dead.
Now consider that we don’t even have this kind of testimony in the Bible. We have 4 accounts from people we don’t know and whose trustworthiness we can’t even guess at. They did not witness the events themselves but at very best got it from direct eyewitnesses, and that’s only if Mark got his information directly from Peter. So at best it’s second hand testimony. Then consider that the first Gospel, Mark, was written about 30 years after Jesus died. So at best we’re talking second hand testimony recorded from an eyewitness 30 years after the event happened. Memories are not trustworthy.
On top of that, a lot of Biblical scholars currently believe in a 2 source hypothesis, that the authors of Matthew and Luke both used the gospel of Mark and another text as source material for their own gospels (with their own theological bents), and it’s undisputed that the author of John had read the other synoptic gospels too, so actually we’re only talking about 2 testimonies, not 4, one of which we have no access to. (Even if John the apostle did write the gospel – which is unlikely – he starts his gospel with “In the beginning there was the Word…” Clearly he’s not speaking as an eyewitness.)
So let’s get back to our analogy. A stranger called Mark comes to you and says someone told them they’d seen a man rise from the dead 30 years ago, and then over the next 20 years 2 more strangers called Matthew and Luke come to you and say they’d heard from 2 people (one of whom was Mark) that someone rose from the dead at that time as well. Then a full 30 years after Mark walked in, another stranger called John comes and says he’s been speaking to the first 3 people outside and he agreed, and in addition John swears blind that this person who rose from the dead was also present at the creation of the universe. Would you believe them?
Then consider that this testimony isn’t given in person, and we can’t question the witnesses, because it was written down thousands of years ago. And the testimonies sometimes contradict each other! Is this really enough to establish that someone rose from the dead, never mind all the theological interpretation that goes along with it? If any Christian can honestly say yes to that, then they’re gullible, and there are plenty of conmen out there who’d love to meet them.