The Evangelical Alliance has issued a robust response to those who dismiss the Easter story as mere myth. Published to coincide with the broadcast of the BBC's documentary "Son of God" the paper presents 10 'points to be considered' by anyone inclined to dismiss the biblical record of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.
The paper, which is entitled "Real Easter": The Plausibility and Historicity of Jesus' Resurrection, emphasises that the Christian faith is based on well-founded evidence.
The paper's author, Alliance Theological Adviser the Rev Dr David Hilborn, commented: "Son of God is a stunning piece of television, both visually and technically. It impressively evokes the society into which Jesus was born, and outlines some of the evidence for his life and deeds. But it bypasses a good deal of data relevant to the central claims of Scripture about Jesus -- date which suggest that he was much more than a good teacher or revolutionary martyr."
Real Easter summarises recent historical, archaeological and scientific research and urges sceptics to think about 10 factors surrounding the Easter story. It starts by focusing on the death of Jesus, saying that medical evidence backs up the claim that Jesus actually died. David Hilborn then states that it would have been impossible to steal the body and that soldiers would have had little motive for colluding with the disciples to aid them in this.
The veracity of women being the first witnesses of the resurrection is also pointed out, with the author stating: "If the Gospel writers had wished retrospectively to 'normalise' these accounts, they would surely have placed the male disciples at the scene, rather than the women, since in Jewish culture at the time the testimony of women had a relatively much lower legal status." After spelling out his 10 points -- see box -- Dr Hilborn cites the continuing growth of the Church world wide as a further sign of the resurrection's significance and power: "From utter despair, the disciples were rapidly transformed by the resurrection into one of the most influential movements the world has ever known," he writes.
"It seems unlikely that they would have been motivated to lead this movement on the basis of a few self-generated mental pictures or by a 'legend' concocted in a matter of days.
"It is quite improbable that a motley band of 11 weak, shell-shocked disciples would, within 36 hours or so of their leader's death devise a deception in which his body would be stolen and disposed of anonymously, so that they could devote their lives to a new religion
born of that same deception," states Dr Hilborn. "On the contrary: their faith, and the faith of the worldwide Church they pioneered, is most genuinely represented as a faith based on these core events: that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried in Joseph's tomb and on the third day was raised bodily from that tomb, leaving it empty."
The 10 points:
1 Medical evidence shows that Jesus died, not swooned on the cross
2 The disciples could not have stolen the body on Easter Sunday -- there would have been a guard of probably 16 heavily armed soldiers who could have been executed if they had been caught asleep.
3 Suggestions that soldiers conspired to steal Jesus' corpse are unlikely -- pagan soldiers would have been uninterested.
4 If, as some claim, the women went to the 'wrong' tomb, the authorities could have gone to the right one and produced the body.
5 Eyewitness events match other historical events, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC. It is improbable that the 500 who together witnessed the resurrection (1 Cor 15:6) were all delusional.
6 The fact that women were the first witnesses is remarkable given their lack of legal status, and bears out the veracity of the Gospels.
7 Given that it was in the interests of the Roman and Jewish authorities to find the body, the fact that they didn't increases the likelihood that the resurrection did take place.
8 Gospel reports of Jesus sharing food and allowing himself to be touched after his resurrection departs from the notion that those around him were suffering delusions.
9 Many early Christians, and those today, die for their faith. Such widescale, long-term martyrdom is rarely commensurate with movements founded on a systematic lie.
10 Science may argue for the extra-ordinariness of the resurrection, but it cannot disprove it.