Read the Bible: The Resurrection of Jesus

One of Atheist Ireland’s campaigns is to encourage people to read the Christian Bible and the sacred texts of other religions. The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central tenet of Christianity. But the evidence for this extraordinary claim is nonexistent outside the Christian Bible, and contradictory within the Christian Bible.

In the earliest written Biblical reference, Paul says the risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at one time [1 Cor 15:3-8]. Yet in the earliest written Gospel, called Mark, the allegedly risen Jesus does not appear to anybody. A different writer later added that part [16:9-20] to the Mark story, with the risen Jesus saying that people who believed in him could safely drink poison.

The Gospels called Matthew and Luke, written a decade or more later, were the first to include the risen Jesus physically appearing to people. But in Matthew, this seems relatively commonplace, with the bodies of many dead people being physically resurrected, coming out of their tombs, and appearing to many people [27:52-53]. None of the other Gospels mention this incident.

Nor do the Gospels agree on where and how many times the risen Jesus physically appeared. In Mark he does not appear at all. In Matthew he appears twice, to the two Marys on a road [27:8-9] and to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee [27:16-17]. In Luke he appears three times: to a man and his companion on a road [24:13-32], to Peter in an unspecified place [24:33-34], and to his disciples and others in a house [24:36-53].

In John he appears four times: to Mary Magdelene who thinks he is a gardener outside his tomb [20:11-18], to his disciples twice in a house [24:19-23, 26-29], and to some of his disciples for breakfast after a fishing trip [21:1-12]. None of the Gospels include Paul’s remarkable claim that the risen Jesus appeared to more than five hundred people at one time.

These fantastic and wildly inconsistent stories may have seemed convincing in more primitive times, written as they were as standalone stories in different places for different audiences, many of who believed the world was coming to an end within their lifetimes. They are no basis today on which to build a worldview about the nature of reality or how we should live together as sentient beings.


“Bible with Cross Shadow” by knowhimonline is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Michael Nugent


  1. Avatar
    Vincent O Sullivan August 03, 2010

    Hi – I note that the above or an edited version was published as a letter in the Irish Times last Saturday (possibly last Friday – not 100% sure).

    I wrote the following response:

    Michael Nugent’s recent letter is a good example of argumentum ex silentio. He does not appear to realise that if one of the Gospel writers fails to mention a detail found in another Gospel, it does not imply that the writer disagreed with the other authors.

    Using a recent analogy, Irish newspapers generally only reported the results of Irish athletes at the European Athletics Championships last week. Likewise British papers generally only reported the results of British athletes. However that does not mean that all of the newspapers were incorrect in their reporting nor does it impy that a major sporting event did not take place in Barcelona last week.

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    nozzferrahhtoo August 03, 2010

    Vincent your analogy fails because it is based on mundane examples from a large series of sporting events. This is hardly comparable to 4 people not being able to match up on the single most important events that could possibly have occurred in the history of our species.

    The Irish might only go into the detail of the Irish results and the British the same… but both will mention the winners in the categories regardless of nationality because that is news.

    Also if something of a scandal explodes then all nationalities around the world will report on it, even those not involved in the event itself, because that really is news.

    Details about a human being coming to life after being entirely dead for 3 days is not small news, it is of monumental importance not just to the people of the day but to the entire species for millennia to come. This is no small detail of importance that can be explained away by a throw away analogy to the Irish not bothering to mention some meaningless bronze medal won by a British athlete in some obscure race in one event within a much larger competition.

    For example one part of one testament tells us how the Graves opened and mainy saints rose, walked and appeared to “many”. You think someone else somewhere would have mentioned this? This is a little bit more important than your average news or gossip of the day is it not? The modern day equivalent of this would be if the news media had failed to report on 9-11 and had instead reported on traffic news a few streets over.

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    Vincent O Sullivan August 03, 2010

    thanks for your reply. Analogies always break down at some point – that’s why they are only anologies.

    You still haven’t quite answered the charge of argumentum ex silentio – just because one writer doesn’t mention something doesn’t mean that he disagrees with the other writers.

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    nozzferrahhtoo August 05, 2010

    That is exactly what I answered, so it is pretty insulting to say I did not answer it.

    Your argument, as I said, only applied to small things that you could reasonably expect not to be mentioned by everyone. Small tit bits of news and the like.

    Here however you have a testament to what would be the single most important thing in the history and most likely the future of mankind. You can not explain it’s lack of mention away so easily.

    In this case it is not that the people not writing it are disagreeing with the people who do, but the ones who DID write it who are disagreeing with literally everyone else. That only 1 or 2 people can testify to the single most important event in the history of man is very telling indeed. Meanwhile we have literally 1000s of people testifying to alien abductions… yet you lend that no credence.

    Yet take less people out of the bronze age than you have fingers on one hand and suddenly their testimony is credible?

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    Adam M August 20, 2010

    Can I finish reading The Descent of Man and The Extended Phenotype first please…?

    Of course the Bible’s going to be inconsistent, it was written and edited over hundreds of years to suit the purposes of the church fathers of the time. Even the old testament / the canon of the Torah was variable up to around 2,ooo years ago (according to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Jerusalem, anyway). I think picking holes in it is a bit like the creationist arguments that gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution or that Darwin’s failure to properly explain how a complex organ could evolve (which contrary to that argument he does do to an extent in Origin of Species) proves the Blind Watchmaker argument.

    Would we not be better off to promote scientific understanding and rational thought instead of taking a negative approach and picking holes in a book of mysogenistic fairy tales?

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    nozzferrahhtoo August 20, 2010

    The difference being, Adam, that no one accepting the theory of evolution thinks or even expects there NOT to be gaps in the fossil records. We in fact do expect them and their presence is not influential on the likelyhood of the theory being true.

    However the inerrancy and consistency in the bible in not only expected but required by many. They really do often think this text to be inerrant and pure.

    Also what I think Nugent does here, in fairness, is to provide a lot more than simply putting holes in the text and the claims. He does more than this and establishes a very useful alternate theory, showing how read in the correct order, we find a pattern much like we would expect to find if we were to predict it based on entirely man made origins for the text, rather than divinely dictated ones.

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    Monado September 03, 2010

    Jesus’ physically appearing to the disciples in Luke was a later addition to the scripture. It was not present in the original manuscript, where the relevant chapter ended with the women finding the tomb empty.

    Since it was added later, the simplest explanation for the addition is that it’s explanatory fiction, a detail created to add verisimilitude to a sketchy narrative.

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    Jack January 07, 2011

    It is time for you to get real. Most of the disciples of Jesus were brutally murdered.
    Jesus rose from the dead and they stood by HIM as they saw the RISEN Christ. Do you seriously believe that Paul, Peter and the others were fools? Do you think that they gave up their lives for fun? They saw the risen Jesus. So they stood by him and gave up their lives for God.

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    nozzferrahhtoo January 10, 2011

    Not sure what your point is Jack. You are telling us the events in a famous work of fiction. How can we “get real” about fiction?

    As for people being fools, many people die for what they believe in. That does not mean that what they believe in is automatically true or real. All that their giving their lives is evidence for is that they firmly believed whatever they believed.

    The truth value of a statement or claim is not altered by how committed people are to believing it. It is either true or it is not… regardless of whether someone gets themselves killed over it.

    If you have any evidence, argument, data or reasons to show the claim is true, then we can talk. If the best you have is “I believe it… he believed it too… and he died for that beleif” then you have told us essentially nothing at all.