RISEN, Part 4: Embarrassing Evidence
There have been many theories presented to explain the overwhelming evidence surrounding the resurrection, some more ridiculous than others. But at the end of the day, there are really only two possibilities: It happened, or the disciples invented it. There is just too much historical evidence for it to be anything other than one of these two.
This is why the vast majority of critical scholarship, for whom a miracle is just an impossibility, have generally come to a consensus that the resurrection was contrived by early followers determined to carry on the messianic movement after Christ’s death. There is debate about the conspiracy itself, but that it was a conspiracy is the most widely held view among skeptics.
The problem, however, is if it was a disciple conspiracy, it was an embarrassingly bad conspiracy. Simply put, if they had written the story, they never would have written it this way.
For example, the disciples themselves come across as cowardly and faithless. Most significant is Peter, the leader of the early church, literally renouncing Jesus in his greatest hour of need. Embarrassment aside, why would the disciples, who are trying to establish authority and credibility, ever present themselves as such pathetic failures?
But there is a much more embarrassing detail that is easy to miss in our culture: the resurrection finds its origins in female testimony. One detail that is consistent in every gospel is that women, unlike the disciples, did not abandon Jesus in his arrest and death, were the original witnesses to the resurrection, and were the first commissioned to tell others that Jesus is risen. So why is that embarrassing?
The opinion and voice of women in the 1st century context was completely disregarded, so much so that their testimony was not considered valid in any court. And this discrimination and marginalization was based upon an actual belief that women were genuinely less reliable and intelligent, and therefore untrustworthy.
But one of the most beautiful things about Jesus is how revolutionarily countercultural he was regarding women. He trusted women, not just throughout His ministry, but with the very news of His resurrection. We in modern society love this about Jesus, but we also need to understand how embarrassing and difficult this part of Christianity’s early story was.
This is why it is impossible to imagine the disciples ever choosing to include women in their conspiracy, not to mention having them play a prominent role. If they were going to try to convince the ancient world that something as astounding as a resurrection has taken place, they would want to keep women as far from it as possible.
And yet there the women are, all over the story of the resurrection. Why did the gospel writers include them? Because Jesus left them no choice. It was an incredibly inconvenient and embarrassing detail of the story, but it had to be included because it was a well-known and established detail of the story.
Either the resurrection happened, or it was invented: historically those are the two options. If it was invented, it was a bad invention that never would have worked. But it did work, embarrassing details and all. And it actually worked, because it actually happened. How do I know for sure? The women told me.