Why All The Doubt In The Bible About The Risen Jesus?

Bart Ehrman points to the lack of discussion among Biblical scholars as to why there was so much doubt expressed in the Bible about the risen Jesus.  The question is, why would there be any doubt at all when someone you knew well was right in front of you?

The doubt is expressed in the Bible many times.  Jesus is right there but the characters in the story do not recognize him.  Someone has to hold his hand to believe it is him.  He spends 40 days with his disciples “proving” he is there.  Forty seconds should have been enough.

An explanation some make is that ancients had visions of Jesus and later doubted whether they really saw him or not.  Ehrman discounts this because research has shown people who have visions believe what they experienced was real.   It is unlikely those who saw visions of Jesus were the ones expressing doubt.

Ehrman believes a more likely explanation. Only a very few in the Bible had these visions.  Likely it was only Peter, Paul and Mary and possible another one or two. None of these expressed doubt.  They told others of their “real” experience.

It was the others who had doubt. Those who wrote the Bible had some reason for including these expressions of skepticism.

The resurrection story of it was repeated orally until it became widely believed as a historical fact. This even though the written version includes considerable doubt.

Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God.

53 Responses

  1. Wanna B Sure

    Why would there be no doubt? How many times in our own lives have we said; “So that’s what it meant.” Or something to that affect. If you have ever put together an “assemble it yourself” project, that would be understandable. Once it is assembled and finished, it is clear to see. In fact, I would be more skeptical if those connected to the narrative were presented as having total clarity. No, the “warts and all” make it more believable. A Peter presented as a flawless “super man” The Baptist needing no reassurance, the remainder of the Apostles and Desciples content after the deathHis followers joyous before their realization of the reality of the resurrection. All of this would have been too seamless and contrived. The doubt simply makes it more believable.

    1. Wanna 1:07 “The doubt simply makes it more believable.”

      Now, that’s a different take of things. Does doubt that Jesus could walk on water make it more believable that he could walk on water? Doesn’t to me.

    2. entech

      One of the early theologians used that same argument, who was it that said something along these lines, It is so stupid I have to believe it?

        1. entech

          paraphrasing, I did say “along the lines’.

          But it is still one of the best arguments for veracity, If something so (stupid? or whatever) was included it must mean it is true!!
          Presumably that includes all the parts that are obviously wrong or at least specious.

          1. entech

            It makes more sense than most of the arguments for the truth of it all, but then I would be be “bound” to say that 😆

    3. Wolfy32

      I’ve had visions while fully awake and aware… Visions I had spoken to my pastor of and he probably thought I was insane, more aptly the best explanation was that I was young and stupid. But, the visions occurred none the less. I have no doubt of their occurance. Yet, they were occuring when I was in a deep state of depression and wanted something to save me. The visions occured when I was 17 or so, never done drugs, never drank a sip of alcohol, never had dated, I did nothing wrong, was a model citizen, obeyed everything my parents told me to do, obeyed everything the church told me to do, obeyed every teacher, and school required activity, had limited friends, and did everything everyone else wanted me to do.

      So, a vision at the time, may have simply been my brain needing to escape my reality. However, my pastor told me, I’ll never forget his words. “You’ve seen into the very mind of God.” After I had told him what I had seen.

      I have heard of others, in severe emotional distress after having lost very close loved ones, that they would see them in the days, weeks, maybe even months after all the funeral and all the people go back to their own lives. Is it our minds trying to cope with an extreme loss that we see these apparitions? and Make them very real?

      The vision I experienced and the dream I dreamt should be enough to have made me believe. At the same time, the manipulation of Christianity, if you don’t believe, then, you’re damned, and if you do believe, you’ll never be good enough, just makes no sense to me other than to control people’s thoughts and thinking, so they don’t become too independant.

  2. entech

    Why the restriction to the resurrection?
    It maybe that it was true and people did see the risen person, extremely doubtful but possible. The other view of replacing despair at the loss with hope by imagined sightings and wishful thinking, and a new religion developing that actually required a dead and reborn leader is just as likely. Paul the originator of this new religion hardly, if ever, spoke about the life of Jesus he needed the dead and reborn entity that brought him to his epiphany.

    More so as the belief grew that Jesus was not only the son of God but was God, but that leads back to there being an actual God. This might be cruel to used car salesmen but does represent the argument so often presented for existence.

    1. entech

      No one would be foolish enough to say that they did not believe it was the truth and the path to eternal life.
      It is whether it was true that is at question.

      1. Adam Heckathorn

        One of the unfortunate side effects of Faith is The willingness of the Believer to sacrifice not only their own lives but the lives of their Children and certainly The lives of their Enemies (with out hesitation) and Rational Thought on The Altar of Their God.

        1. Henry

          I am still waiting for this rational thought to “evolve” from the atheist. Maybe you could help them, Adam?

          1. entech

            You do not recognise anything except your own ideas and interpretations. You have already sacrificed anything not passing the filter of scripture, you and other creationists have already sacrificed Rational Thought on The Altar of Their God.

          2. entech

            PS. it is amusing that you keep talking of Fallacy as virtually every post is guilty of being ad hominem when you start most things with “The Atheist”.

            Bust day coming, goodnight. Don’t cut yourself on palms all those fronds for your special Sunday.

          3. entech 1:51 “Don’t cut yourself on palms … for your special Sunday.”

            I’m sure lots of the plastic palm branches waved today came from Hobby Lobby which, in turn, bought them from nonChristian countries to profit from Palm Sunday.

          4. Henry

            Jon:“I’m sure lots of the plastic palm branches waved today came from Hobby Lobby which, in turn, bought them from nonChristian countries to profit from Palm Sunday.”

            The palm branches could be bought from satan himself, and it wouldn’t make it any less holy. Christ makes it holy. As usual, atheist focus is lacking.

          5. Henry 4:46 “The palm branches could be bought from Satan himself and it wouldn’t make it less holy. Christ makes it holy.”

            Actually, it is not plastic palm branches, Satan or Jesus that make it holy. From the evidence we have, it is worshippers themselves who decide it is holy.

    2. Adam Heckathorn

      Did the Guys that flew the planes into the World trade center die for what They believed was truth? Thousands of Jehovah’s Witness’s died in Nazi death camps They could have left at anytime by signing a paper renouncing their faith. Do You believe They have The Truth?

  3. H.P.D

    This piece was written recently by Bruce Long thought I would share. The question is when religion and mental illness are not the same thing, here is his answer. When religiosity is mental illness. This piece is written by a non- believer

    “Sorry, but you simply have not succeeded at arguing the first point. The clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia and various other psychoses involves a number of salient factors and symptoms that if demonstrated to hold indicate psychopathology. These include delusions of reference (being referred to by or referring to people or conscious beings that do not exist), auditory and visual hallucinations (including the belief in witnessing miracles and heaing the voices of a god or gods in some way), and general paranoia: including being concerned about being watched or believing one is being watched often. Especially if a person believes they are always being watched.?All of these symptoms are present in faithist commitments to unreal and fictional divine beings believed in as real. Adult persons that refer to and take themselves to be the objects of attention of non-existent persons – no matter what the nature of the putative person – are ill.?Adults that hold the paranoid belief that they are part of some worldwide historical conspiracy by supernatural beings to dominate their lives and the lives of everyone else – and to bring about an end to history: are ill.?Adults that speak into space and believe that they are referring to some real individual or individuals (supernatural persons in this case) are ill, especially when they claim that those persons are as real as you or I, but simply in a different way. The same goes for those that claim to be receiving some kind of divine inspiration or internal voice from one of these being or a spirit of some kind. In any other circumstances – all other conditions held constant – such would all be symptoms of psychosis and a paranoid delusion at best.?There is no excuse available for faithism or religionism on the basis of cultural norms. Many times in history mankind has made the most progress by overthrowing the greatest and most widely and dearly held assumptions which turned out to be broadly unhealthy. The black plague was caused because people were convinced that cats were creatures somehow influenced by some kind devil personality. We do not think that if many people truly believed in batman or the flying spaghetti monster as real beings – that they could refer to and be heard by and listen to internally – that they would be trustworthy rational beings whose cognitive faculties could be properly relied upon. That the fictional characters are different makes no difference.?And yes – there are many faithists – and numbers do not make any difference to the fact of the appropriate diagnosis. It does not follow from something being a cultural norm that it is healthy or beneficial to individuals or to society.?The argument that religion and faithism does some good is vastly flawed. Acid and disease will do some good if applied under the right circumstances the right way (vaccination). There is plenty of evidence that the benefits of faith in terms of any confidence and peace of mind are equally available to the sceptic and non-believer who chooses to approach the facts with the right attitude. The claim that people need faith in religious icons and supernatural entities is habitually based propaganda (and there re many other motivations, but none of them truly about benefitting individuals or societies). It is arguable that every peaceful moment that any religionist has ever experienced could have been secured in a non-religious manner (except for those that thrill to the euphoria of illusion and deception of themselves and others for personal gain, perhaps). More importantly, arguably for every meditative moment, there has been a human sacrifice, a torture, a political sabotage, a hate crime motivated by needless discursive and doctrinal divisions, or someone that has tried to control the outcomes and minds of others with cheap narratives that are epistemically limited. The empathetic scientist (science in the broad sense including the special and to some extent the social) that works hard to figure out what is really going on rather than – well – making shit up – is doing their fellow man the real service.?Faithists and religionists just are sharing in a complex elaborate sophisticated constructed delusion from which they cannot be swayed by any measure of reason and which remains fixed in the face of a complete lack of evidence and in the face of material demonstrations of its vacuity. For some reason because of its grandness of scope (although science is now rapidly revealing that religious affectation embodies a limited imagination) the delusion is accepted. But this is just silly and inconsistent. Grandiose delusions where the individual is empowered by some god proxy in some manner by fiat are delusions that are conventionally pathological and clinically so. The willful dissimulation that is involved in forgetting it is the one that cannot prove the non-existence of something that is behaving questionably is not some pragmatic maneuver for survival: this is the sign of a mind weakened by pathology adopted and induced, and perhaps just acquired. Faithists most certainly are ill, and convinced faithism is an illness of delusions of reference and grandiose relevance, paranoia, the need to control others, and narcissistic imperatives including the belief of affirmation by the powerful deities (or attracting the displeasure of the same – it does not matter). Like many mentally ill persons faithists are practiced at pretending they are well and have the advantage of corporate agreement and safety in numbers to embolden them. They deserve our help and support, but can be harmful and threatening when challenged. Personally I have borne the brunt of the ire of disaffected faithists on many occasions, and they are not pretty when having a religonised psychotic episode. Most marked is their propensity to passive aggression and clandestine (social) or childish (interpersonal) manifestations of disaffectedness and aggression or aversion in response to criticism: doctrine and dogma are usually called into service, or the demonizing of the opponent as a servant of evil (constructive criticism or appeals to reason are often mislabeled as accusatory or an attack). ?However, if we truly care about them, then we will not continue to pedal the religion as medicine mythos that is put forward by Jamesian Pragmatists and those that benefit from weakening the cognitive capacity or their human fellows by intellectual sabotage, and that have rely upon this for a living and as a way of exerting personal power over others. Such is the approach of the controlling narcissist that cannot accept criticism and the psychopath that will endorse any narrative to secure their ends despite the cost to children. They have been around since at least Socrates time, and it will be pleasing and refreshing to see them gone forever, replaced by peaceful, productive, reasonably satisfied, and rational selves that do not enlist god characters as proxies and justifications for their attitudes and meanness.?Faiths are a ready made tool for abuse by such individuals. What better way to control the outcomes and behaviour of another but to convince them that they should obey some all powerful omniscent moral agent, and then craft the moral content to suit oneself. Persons who cannot stand forth and make rational judgements unaided by the support of gangs of other people all affirming their beliefs with no regard for evidence, demonstration, reasoned assessment, or scientific appraisal and discourse: such people are limited in their ability to achieve their own agency (although no person is an island and everyone needs help – this is far beyond that) and seek control of others in preference to changing their minds with cognitive application and emotional intelligence.?Religion is the systematized manifestation and embodiment of dissimulative, narcissistic, controlling, paranoid, delusive (and complexly and grandiosely so) and hallucinatory illness. It is time for us to be rid of it at last, and to be truly free and free to liberate our minds.?We certainly can understand and learn from religion, but it’s content and edicts have little to teach us. It’s vast errors are far more informative. Secular society does not need to invent a religion like alternative to religion. This is a mistake. If a definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then we need religion or religious like structures like we need alchemy or cancer.?All people share the challenges of being human. That is simply tautological. It is that religion is in any way a good way of going about it that is an idea that is well past its use-by date. Yaden and other religionist apologists are just wrong. There are some things in the spectrum of human experience and habit that we are simply better without.?Tit for tat efforts at pathologising more basic and simple approaches to peace and personal satisfaction that do not involves the imposition and adoption of grandiose delusions fail. They fail because they assume – petitio principii – that which they are trying to argue: that religion is necessary for happiness and health. They fail because the yearnings that lead people to faith in frail narratives because of lack and the human condition have other cures: and every rational freethinking person knows it. They do not want to face radical and elegant alternative solutions that retain fellowship but mitigate group think and anti-intellectualism when the mind others, and nature are – even for the religionist – our only real greatest source of inspiration. To be dissatisfied and disaffected with the sufficiency of that is pathological on standard terms.”???

    1. Henry

      What a GREAT, concise answer to “Why All the Doubt in the Bible About the Risen Jesus?”!! Keep up the great work, HP!

      1. H.P.D

        Not often do you fine somebody you totally agree with, thought it fit right with the manipulation you get in the bible for today’s subject. All smoke and mirrors for a gullible group of people. I doubted the people preaching long before I started doubting what was written, the more people I talk to the more I doubt. Now the Mud Hen fits right in here with Bruce Long has been talking about. By adding this piece into todays blog would give people something to think about as to how far do you want to take your religiosity if you are inclined to do so. At what point is there benefit and at what point is there no benefit or at what point are you being self destructive.

        1. Wolfy32

          Not just that, but the harmfulness of religion outweighs having a religious institution. What I really thought was powerful, was, that religion should not be replaced with alternatives… But, should be eliminated from our society / cultures. In other words, replacing Christianity, as the Christians on here would say, with Atheism would not solve the problem. Nor would replacing Evangelical Christianity with the structured Roman Catholic form of Christianity do anything for us. Any form of religion would need to be removed, belief and belief in non belief.

          To be honest, I’m not sure that’s even possible as a race. There’s scientific evidence that our brains have a “religious” center. There’s a part of our brain that is activated through religious rituals, ceremony, and meditation. The amuzing thing is it doesn’t matter what religious activity. E.g. practicing Budhism, or Meditating in a Tibetan monestary, or attending a Christian song service. The same center gets activated regardless. The science hasn’t gone into why this happens. Is it something left over from our evolution, or is it some form of thought organ, that promotes a form of limited telepathy? We just don’t know how to use that part of our brain. We know how to activate it (sort of), but, haven’t learned how to direct / target it’s use.

          Hard to say. The danger in eliminating religion of all types from society / culture is that it exists for a reason. That reason is not because some God being needs it, but, because humanity, may have a need for it.

          The next level of freudian psycho analysis may be that, we not only have 4 basic drives in life- food, water, shelter, and sexual drive. But, we may also have a “religious” drive.

          If that’s the case, to completely deny it, may be impossible. It may require an outlet a way of us meeting that need in alternative ways.

          Overall, I think the article is dead on with the fact that religion is detrimental in terms of thought control and and the agression it shows, becoming the full on lynch mob for anyone that doesn’t believe like “the religious” do. The main difference between your basic garden variety lynch mob and religious lynch mobs, is that as they start chasing the non believer and attacking them for thinking differently, they get side tracked with each other and start forming larger lynch mobs to go after the other believers since they also have differences of beliefs. 🙂

          That’s good for those of us not a part of their thought control system (TCS).

        2. Jinx

          HPD, I see your post as kind of a summation of what Jon tries to do with this blog……question, examine and discuss the foundations of modern day religion.

          Try a There is no proof of god’s existence or nonexistence, no matter what the fake priest claims. Eye witness evidence is terribly flawed and when written down years after events, it’s credibility is gone..

          When I was barely 6 years old and just started catechism, my Mom had me sit with her and we discussed God and genesis. Then I asked her where God started from and her reply was “he always was and always will be”……I disagreed and told, no, he’s got to start somewhere. That was the beginning of my doubt and over the next 25 years, with lots of research, It could not be proven whether he did or did not exist.

          1. Jinx 9:30 “That was the beginning of my doubt..it could not be proved whether he did or did not exist.”

            Trying to make any rational sense of it all, really, it beyond anyone’s ability. Even the faithful cannot do it. A parody of Jesus teaching about the faith is making the rounds, maybe you have seen it. In it, Jesus says

            It’s like this: I created man and woman with original sin. Then, I impregnated a woman with myself as her child so I could be born. Later, I will kill myself to save all of you from the sin I qave you in the first place.

          2. entech

            Jon, that is only one interpretation. Relax allow yourself to believe and a new and different interpretation will be revealed to you.

    2. StanB

      HPD, started reading it but it could have used some paragraph breaks…not a criticism of the content, just really hard to read….

    1. Candyman 11:13 I tried to watch but was cut off. I did see the part where the guy says Satan will persuade people not to believe this is the Ark. How does he know Satan is not behind trying to get people to believe in the Ark?

      A YouTube of a CBN story has Ken Ham quoting the Bible that there was pitch on the inside and outside of the Ark. He said he could not see any pitch on the pictures of the pieces of wood. I think what the found was a old tribe’s mountain farm and out buildings.

      But, I’m sure the group making the claim needs money from you and I hope you have sent them some.

  4. Fr. James

    I’ve read the gospels and they portray no doubt. Jesus rose from the dead as he promised. They saw him and believed. Later they died terrible deaths witnessing to the resurrection. No one would do that if they did not actually see Him. It takes more faith to doubt then to believe.

    Of course Bart has lots of reasons to doubt. He can count them in his bank account as gullible people buy his books…and refuse to read any others.

    1. Adam Heckathorn

      Fr. James 3:48 “No one would do that if they did not actually see Him.” I believe My 11:47 on this page refutes this view as it points out Folks are willing to die for causes We’d both agree are in error.

      1. StanB

        Adam, it is assumed by many athiests that it was all made up and the apostles benefited by making it up. So why did they choose death if they KNEW it was all fake?

      2. Fr. James

        The cause might be in error, but this would be an issue of fact. They either saw him or did not. If they did not actually see him it is very very unlikely they would die for a lie.

      3. Adam Heckathorn

        The Human mind does funny things when under great stress We tend to fill in around our preconceived assumptions. I actually would find it unlikely there was deliberate deception. My Inlaws believed My Wife’s severe brain injury could be completely cured and at One point They all (Five Adults) all agree’d that the answer was to take Her off Her seizure Medicine in fact They had the support of an amazing number of others I alone argued for the medical opinion of every doctor She has ever seen including those at The U of M and The Mayo These were all People of Faith (JW’s). In spite of every One’s great faith what the Doctors predicted based on Science and Medicine came to pass. What amazes Me is the lack of capacity to learn from previous experience sure the lesson was learned that She needs Seizure Medicine but not that Medical Doctors May deserve greater respect on opinions relating to their field.

        1. Fr. James

          During stress it is more likely they would admit to lying and save their lives. They didn’t. Not just one person, but many chose death. They did not all have brain injuries.

    2. Wolfy32

      When one loses all hope, as one can surmise the desciples had, they were desparate. They saw the government winning, slowly clamping down on them, they had betrayal, they had the government looking for any supporters to put them down too. And the disciples were lost, their leader had been their leader for a long time. They presumably had given up everything to follow their leader. They weren’t educated. They were fishermen, and tax collectors, etc.

      They were bottom feeders that had started out with no hope. They were easily manipulated. Take a person today that’s in a dead end minimum wage job, with limited educational background, and offer them some hope. Just as back then, there’d be a number of people today that would do the same thing as back then. They would follow any charismatic person that offered them hope and put that person on a pedestal eventually. Gossip of the person would eventually spread.

      That’s why people would die for him. I imagine many soldiers in vietnam saw that the best they could do is save their friend’s life and took a bullet for them. People die for causes, misguided or honorable. They do it all the time. There’s the extremes of terrorists blowing themselves up, or firemen trying to save people in the collapsing trade centers.

      People die for their “belief” in life. I can imagine all the guys sitting around, full of hopelessness, pain, hurt, right after Christ’s death. Why do you think the roman’s posted a guard at Christ’s tomb? They either feared or had intel that the rebel group would try to steal the body for themselves.

      There were still 10-11 desciples. 10-11 against one or two Roman Guards? Wouldn’t have been hard to incapacitate them, take the body, and claim Christ was still alive to keep the battle against the roman empire going. They used what they had learned, their knowledge of the public to get through their morning and restore hope to the people of the land.

      It’s one possibility of many, but, just as believable as an alien / angelic being, stopping over using some type of anti gravitiy ray to move the boulder and then get inside and inject Christ’s body with a bunch of rejuvenation fluid.

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