Easter is one of the biggest holidays in the Christian religion, along with Christmas and Good Friday. However it is also has many myths and misconceptions surrounding it. Some are honest mistakes and others are straight out lies. So today, I’m going go clear up a of few of these falsehoods surrounding Easter.
1) The concept of the ‘resurrection’ was a later belief added to the Christian faith.
If you remember the controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code, part of the premise of the story was that much of the Christian faith was removed or added over time. So much editing had occurred that there was very little evidence pointing to it except for a small circle of true believers who knew better and the hierarchy in the Vatican who didn’t want people to know the truth. One date when much of this editing occurred is 325 AD, during the Council of Nicaea, which is when most skeptics believe the Bible was compiled and most of the major tenets of Christianity were added. The problem with this is that the resurrection was very much a part of the religious creed for the 1st century Church. Cornelius Tacitus, one of the best Roman historians of the 1st century, mentions in the 15th book of his Annals a “mischievous superstition” was held by “a class hated for abominations, called Christians.” What could have this superstition been? Jesus proclaiming to be God? Well the emperors and several characters in Greco-Roman myths already did that, so nothing there that’s too outrageous. That he did miracles? The ancient world was full of miracle workers and performers of various wonders. Jesus shouldn’t have even made it on the radar if that was the reason. Could it be his resurrection? That seems to be the only one that fits. Tacitus was known for being skeptical of resurrection tales and the fact that people in a new religion with a deity that had died and rose again would have caught his attention particularly since Nero used them as a scapegoat. Josephus, a contemporary Jewish historian, also mentions the resurrection as well. “On the third day he appeared to them restored to life…” Some have argued that this text has been tampered with, but it should be noted the Arabic version of the text also includes it but is over all less biased in tone. Therefore we can be assured that Josephus did faithfully record the Christian belief of Christ’s resurrection. Whether he believed it or not is up for debate. And finally we have I Corinthian 15:1-11. Often described as the first creed to be used by the Church, it adamantly recounts the death and resurrection of Christ. Considering this epistle would have been written in the 40s or 50s AD, it is quite clear that the early Church believed in the resurrection since the beginning.
2) The gospels and the epistles were describing a spiritual or metaphorical resurrection, not a bodily one.
This is an approach typically taken by more liberal theologians and biblical scholars who feel that the Bible consists of mostly good ideas that are to enlighten our moral and social lives. Anything else should be taken as mythos and left at that. While it is true that the Bible contains insight about moral and social dilemmas, that doesn’t mean parts of it can’t be taken literally. In fact most of it should be taken literally, especially when it concerns the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So let’s first look over the burial and empty tomb scenes in the gospels. Matthew describes Christ giving up his spirit, Joseph of Arimathea takes the body to be buried, and in chapter 28 the women find the tomb empty. Mark has the same thing. Christ breathes his last, Joseph takes the body, and the women find the tomb empty. Both Luke and John offer the same accounts as well. In all four cases, the texts do not imply that they should be taken figuratively. A tomb that once held a body but is now empty can only suggest a physical resurrection. Of course someone might say that all of these images are symbolic in nature and literature that uses symbols doesn’t have to declare what they are (see Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451). That is true, however, why mention the stone being rolled away? Metaphors don’t have to make complete sense so long as the point of it was conveyed. And spiritual resurrections shouldn’t be constrained by physical obstacles. Plus the gospel of Luke has Christ saying he isn’t a ghost and ate food in front of the disciples! And John records Thomas, who doubted the physical resurrection, touching the wounds of the risen Lord! As for the rest of the New Testament, Peter declares a physical resurrection in his sermon at Pentecost and Paul tells the Corinthians the need for a physical resurrection for the Christian faith to be valid. So the Bible does teach a physical resurrection.
3) The Christians copied the resurrection story from other religions.
You are most likely to see this one on online forums and discussion boards where militant atheists are talking without thinking. Typically this accusation will come with an example like Osiris or Mithras. The problem with these myths is that their stories, while sounding similar, are very different when closely examined. First, let’s look at Osiris. Osiris was the king in Egypt during the days when the gods themselves ruled the land. His brother Suetekh was jealous and murdered and scattered his brother’s body across the face of the earth. Isis, Osiris’ wife, manages to find all but one of his pieces and putting them together regenerates him back to life. Sounds similar right? Not really. First, Osiris didn’t die for anyone and Jesus’ body wasn’t cut up and scattered around the world. Second and more importantly, Jesus came back to life among the land of the living and is always associated with life and not the dead. Osiris, after his regeneration, was associated with death and was even made the ruler of the after life. Thus he wasn’t resurrected, but rather “zombified.” Another god used to compare Christ with is Mithras. Mithras was an eastern god worshipped by the Romans and had a cult following among soldiers because he was supposed to be a god of war and warriors. He was supposedly born of a virgin on December 25th and died for the sins of the world. But this statement shows more of one’s ignorance concerning the mythos of Mithras than anything else. Dec. 25th was the birthday of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquerable Sun,” with whom Mithras was often associated with and mistaken for. However, Mithras wasn’t born of a virgin but a rock. And we have no recorded Mithraic scripture that says he ever died. Rather we do know that he killed bulls, but we don’t know why. At least with the Osiris myth, the god actually did die. Mithras is just a pale and pitiable caricature of what people want to believe about Christianity. There are other gods, like Bacchus and Baal, that are often used as well. But you can bet that after a brief look at these stories, you’ll find that the gods actually didn’t die or that they were used to explain the seasons and the renewal of the vegetation on earth. None ever actually come close to imitating the actual story of the risen Lord.
4) Christ didn’t die on the cross thus his appearance to the disciples wasn’t that miraculous. Or they were looking at the wrong tomb.
This one covers a lot of theories to explain how Christ could have appeared to his disciples after his crucifixion without ever having to die and thus come back from the dead. The problem is that there is no evidence to support any of them. Take the “Swoon Theory.” It says that Christ didn’t die on the cross, but fainted. He was later revived and walked around appearing to people. This ignores the facts surrounding Christ’s death. If you read the gospels you’ll find that he was first beaten and flogged. The beating would result in major bruises as well as a broken nose. The flogging, performed by Roman soldiers, would have shredded and ripped his skin off causing him to lose large quantities of blood and bodily fluids. Then he was nailed to the cross with nine inch iron nails into his hands and feet in order to make breathing nearly impossible and very painful. And after he had died, a soldier stabs his side and finds that the blood and water in Christ had separated which is a clear sign of death. However the “Swoon Theory” would have us believe that Jesus survived all of that, was buried, given no medical attention whatsoever, unwrapped his burial clothes, rolled back a massive stone with his nail pierced hands, walked out on his nail pierced feet, and starting hanging out with his friends again. I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this is anymore logical and believable than Christ simply rising from the grave. To be fair though, this theory doesn’t have a lot of followers because of its flaws. Another theory suggests that it wasn’t Jesus on the cross but somebody else. This is popular among online Muslim apologists who sometimes suggest it was Judas Iscariot who was crucified. First, Judas had already hung himself so how did he get on the cross? Second, even if the disciples were too far away to see who was crucified or the body so mangled by the flogging that the person was beyond recognition, when did the exchange occur? The only accounts of the betrayal on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are in the gospels which say Jesus was constantly under guard by his enemies. The Jews had already identified him during the meeting at the Sanhedrin, at Pilate’s court, and before Herod. At each point, they never indicate that they were unsure that this was the person they wanted dead. For this theory to work, you have to have an unfounded bias that the gospels aren’t telling us the whole story. Which leaves us with the wrong tomb theory. Here the women and the disciples of Christ went to the wrong tomb which was empty and they said that Jesus had arisen from the dead. But this begs several questions. Why didn’t the Jewish leaders go to the right tomb and show the body? Were the guards mentioned Matthew at the wrong tomb? Why were there used and empty burial garments at the wrong tomb? How could the women have gone to the wrong tomb when they followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb? Why didn’t Joseph point out the right tomb? How could all of the disciples have been wrong? It simply doesn’t add up.
5) Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny are Christian traditions for Easter.
Let me be clear, I have nothing against the Easter Bunny or Easter Egg hunts. I enjoyed them as a kid, and want all children to have the same experience. The problem I have is when Christians get bent out of shape when its time for Halloween and they don’t want their kids to participate in something pagan. Never mind their Christmas trees, holly, Easter Eggs, and Easter Bunnies. The Easter Bunny is the symbol of the goddess Eostra, from which we get the name Easter, who was the deity of spring and fertility. The eggs were also symbols of fertility. Combine these two symbols with the minds of Western civilization’s entrepreneurs and you have…MERCHANDISING!!! Just like St. Nicholas has become the commercialized Santa Claus, these items were transformed for stores to make money for an upcoming holiday. Greedy? Possibly. Fun for kids and family? Definitely. Christian in origin? Absolutely not! I’m not saying we should get rid of the Easter Bunny and forbid our children from looking for colored eggs, but I think as believers we need to be more honest with ourselves. If we can’t celebrate Halloween for its pagan roots, can we celebrate Christmas or Easter?
I hope you enjoyed this post. It was longer than what I usually write, but I think what I had to say was important. There are plenty of great sources that can better explain the historical evidence for the resurrection and Christianity than what I have here, so please check it out. But I also hope it has instilled in you a desire to reread the passages describing Christ’s death and resurrection and reflect on what it means for your faith.