LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED 1
Dan Barker (Edited by John Stone)
I have an Easter challenge for Christians. My challenge is simply this: tell me what happened on Easter. I am not asking for proof. My straightforward request is merely that Christians tell me exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born.
Believers should eagerly take up this challenge, since without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Paul wrote,
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.” (I Corinthians 15:14-15)
The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul's tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.
Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture―it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. Fair enough?
I have tried this challenge myself. I failed. An
Assembly of God minister whom I was debating a couple of years ago on a Florida
radio show loudly proclaimed over the air that he would send me the narrative
in a few days. I am still waiting. After my debate at the
Many bible stories are given only once or twice,
and are therefore hard to confirm. The author of Matthew, for example, was the
only one to mention that at the crucifixion dead people emerged from the graves
Thomas Paine tackled this matter two hundred years ago in The Age of Reason, stumbling across dozens of New Testament discrepancies:
“I lay it down as a position which cannot be controverted, first, that the agreement of all the parts of a story does not prove that story to be true, because the parts may agree and the whole may be false; secondly, that the disagreement of the parts of a story proves the whole cannot be true.”
Since Easter is told by five different writers, it gives one of the best chances to confirm or disconfirm the account. Christians should welcome the opportunity.
One of the first problems I found is in Matthew 28:2, after two women arrived at the tomb:
“And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”
(Let's ignore the fact that no other writer mentioned this “great earthquake.”) This story says that the stone was rolled away after the women arrived, in their presence.
Yet Mark's Gospel says it happened before the women arrived:
“And they said among themselves, Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.”
Luke writes: “And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.” John agrees. No earthquake, no rolling stone. It is a three-to-one vote: Matthew loses. (Or else the other three are wrong.) The event cannot have happened both before and after they arrived.
Some bible defenders assert that Matthew 28:2 was intended to be understood in the past perfect, showing what had happened before the women arrived. But the entire passage is in the aorist (past) tense, and it reads, in context, like a simple chronological account. Matthew 28:2 begins, “And, behold,” not “For, behold.” If this verse can be so easily shuffled around, then what is to keep us from putting the flood before the ark, or the crucifixion before the nativity?
Another glaring problem is the fact that in Matthew
the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples happened on a
After receiving this angelic message, “Then the eleven disciples went away into
Mark agrees with Matthew's account of the angel's
Believers sometimes use the analogy of the five blind men examining an elephant, all coming away with a different definition: tree trunk (leg), rope (tail), hose (trunk), wall (side), and fabric (ear). People who use this argument forget that each of the blind men was wrong: an elephant is not a rope or a tree. You can put the five parts together to arrive at a non-contradictory aggregate of the entire animal. This has not been done with the resurrection.
Another analogy sometimes used by apologists is comparing the resurrection contradictions to differing accounts given by witnesses of an auto accident. If one witness said the vehicle was green and the other said it was blue, that could be accounted for by different angles, lighting, perception, or definitions of words. The important thing, they claim, is that they do agree on the basic story―there was an accident, there was a resurrection.
I am not a fundamentalist inerrantist.
I am not demanding that the evangelists must have been expert, infallible
witnesses. (None of them claims to have been at the tomb itself, anyway.) But
what if one person said the auto accident happened in
Luke says the post-resurrection
appearance happened in Jerusalem, but Matthew says it happened in
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, none of these contradictions prove that the resurrection did not happen, but they do throw considerable doubt on the reliability of the supposed witnesses. Some of them were wrong. Maybe they were all wrong.
This challenge could be harder. I could ask why reports of supernatural beings, vanishing and materializing out of thin air, long-dead corpses coming back to life, and people levitating should be given serious consideration at all. Thomas Paine was one of the first to point out that outrageous claims require outrageous proof.
Protestants and Catholics seem to have no trouble
applying healthy skepticism to the miracles of Islam, or to the “historical”
visit between Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith and the angel
Paine also points out that everything in the Christian bible is hearsay. For example, the message at the tomb (if it happened at all) took this path, at minimum, before it got to our eyes: God, angel(s), Mary, disciples, Gospel writers, copyists, translators. (The Gospels are all anonymous and we have no original versions.)
But first things first: Christians, either tell me exactly what happened on Easter Sunday, or let's leave the Jesus myth buried next to Eastre (Ishtar, Astarte), the pagan Goddess of Spring after whom your holiday was named.