Dehumanization Found in Bad Sportsmanship

I have a confession to make…

 

Are you ready?…Okay, here we go…

 

I love watching sports.

Yes, I confess, I love watching sports. In the vast ocean of sports, my particular fish of choice is football. I love the competitiveness. The excitement amplifies me. The athleticism amazes me. And the necessity for unity in each particular team (that is, successful teams) compels me. While I have my particular favorite teams (e.g. Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers) and have my lesser favorites…(wouldn’t you like to know), good sportsmanship is prized above all things when it comes to athletics.

That is why I was truly perplexed at last Saturday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the Steelers, was carted off the field with an injury. While he enjoyed his cart ride back to the locker room, some fans began cheering that this person had been injured and threw objects at him. The off-the-field antics by the fans spilled over to the field. Pittsburgh went on to win the game due to unsportsmanlike behavior by some of the Bengal players that literally cost them the game. Being a playoff game, the sting of defeat burned far more than usual.

Let it be said that this one game DOES NOT REPRESENT the good people of Cincinnati, Ohio, the NFL, nor the Bengals organization. Such a thing could have happened anywhere.

How is it that sports overrides a person’s humanity? I understand that we all want our favorite teams to win. But in the end, one team must win and one team must lose. However, a person remains a person. I feel the problem stems from dehumanization which stems from the objectification of a human being. That is to say, a person is not viewed as a person but as an object.

Dehumanization is nothing new. Dehumanization has happened before and unfortunately will happen until Christ returns. Dehumanization led to the gas chambers in Germany, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the countless victims slaughtered across the world.

Am I saying that fans cheering on an injured quarterback is the same as the previous examples given? No. Of course not! However, if left unchecked, such societal ideologies, attitudes, and behaviors can lead to such extremes especially when human life is devalued. So how to we keep ourselves from dehumanizing another person? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Remember that all people are made “imagio dei.”

Despite a person’s nationality, politics, religion, or race, each person is a person made in the image of God. Granted, for some people it is much more difficult finding that image. Nevertheless, each person is a creation of God and is to be valued as such. One of the Ten Commandments states that one shall “not murder” (Exodus 20:13).[1] Why? It is because that every human life holds value. At the end of the day, even if your team loses, the winners are still human (that is unless your sport features fighting robots).

  1. Keep things in proper perspective.

At the end of the day, keep things in proper perspective. If your team loses, how are you really going to be affected? Chances are likely that the vast majority of those reading this article have not invested interest in the teams for which they cheer. Even if you do, is the world really going to come to an end if your team does not win the championship? 

  1. Try to remain emotionally balanced.

Sometimes people who have had a string of bad luck with personify their favorite team. Their team somehow psychologically represents them in a real way. However, this is certainly not the case. We must find a way to keep ourselves balanced emotionally. Try not to allow yourself to become overly excited or overly depressed.[2] How does one accomplish this? Try the final principle.

  1. Keep in tune with God.

When a person sees the world the way God sees it, then the person will not be as apt to become obsessed with their team and, thereby, resist the temptation to dehumanize those individuals on opposing teams. Yes…even if the Chicago Bears were to defeat my Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks were to defeat my Carolina Panthers…(to quote Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space, “oh, the pain…the pain”).

drzachscream                            sad Packers dog

In eternity, will it really matter who won these games outside of the influence that people have with one another? Not really. Life will keep moving on.

If we keep these principles, we can demonstrate good sportsmanship and, more importantly, maintain the value of every human life.

 

 

© January 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] A biblical example of this can be found in the apostle Paul. Paul could find contentment in any state that he faced. See Philippians 4:10-13.

Those Hypocritical Christians! 4 Ways that Theological Truth Transcends Bad Behavior

For those who do not know my testimony, I left the ministry for seven years due to great doubts pertaining to the truthfulness of Christianity. I nearly became an agnostic…in fact, I seriously teetered with the idea for some time. My agnosticism wasn’t that I didn’t think that God couldn’t exist, but rather that I wasn’t sure that one could know God completely. This doubt was fueled by the lack of answers I was given by Christian leaders against the skeptical claims of the Jesus Seminar.[1] However, another element intensified the doubts that I possessed—Christian hypocrisy; that is to say, Christians who claimed to be devout but dismissed Christian teachings when it was convenient for them. Could I devote myself to something that held so many that refused to take its claims seriously?

I am not alone. In fact, one of the top-5 excuses given by those who do not want to attend church pertains to “those hypocritical Christians!” To make matters worse, the truthfulness of Christianity is often gauged by the behavior of its adherents. But is this a legitimate? Is the truthfulness of a movement based upon the actions of its adherents? As God brought me back to a strong faith which led me back into the ministry by apologetics, I learned that truth is transcendent. That is, truth exists beyond the scope of human opinions and/or actions. The truthfulness of any movement is found in four realms. It is within these realms that Christianity should be tested and not the actions of some of its so-called adherents.

1. Truth is transcendent in its reality.

Truth is not something that works for one person and not for another. Norman Geisler defines truth as that which “can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not” (Geisler 1999, 741). I really like the Greek term aletheia. It is the term that is translated as “truth.” Louw and Nida define the term as the following: “ἀλήθεια, ας f: the content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened—‘truth.’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 672). In other words, truth is defined as that which is in accordance to reality. Jesus uses the term aletheia when saying the “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).[2] In this one simple teaching, Jesus notes that truth exists, truth is knowable, and that truth is transformative. It can be demonstrated that Jesus is a historical person and that the New Testament is reliable. It can be demonstrated that God’s existence is a necessity. Thus, certain truths presented in the Bible can be supported by evidence. The reality of these truths transcends the bad behaviors of those claiming to be a Christian.

As this pertains to bad behavior with some of a movement’s adherents, one should note that truth transcends bad behavior. Allow me to illustrate. I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. I love the team, I love the family atmosphere, I love that the team is in a small town, and I love the great history with the franchise. Nevertheless, the team can have a few bad moments. For instance, on January 18, 2015, the Green Bay Packers led the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game 19-7 entering into the 4th quarter. However, disaster struck and the Packers ended up losing to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks would go on to the 49th Super Bowl and Packers fans were left wondering, “What happened?” But, does this one bad play negate the 13 championships that the Packers had previously won? Does the one bad play negate the history of the team beginning on August 11, 1919 in a “dingy second-floor editorial room of the old Green Bay Press-Gazette building, located on Cherry Street in downtown Green bay” (www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend) by the Indian Packing Company? The obvious answer is “no.” The history of the team transcends one bad game. The same is true for Christianity. The bad behaviors of some Christians do not discredit the historical reality of Christianity.

2. Truth is transcendent in its founder.

If one desires to know the truthfulness of a particular movement, one should evaluate the founder of the movement. For instance, if one desires to know why Protestantism began, then one needs to evaluate Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the early reformers. Why did they split from the Catholic Church? If one desires to know about Buddhism, then one should desire to know more about Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. The same is true with Christianity. If one desires to know about what Christianity stands for, look to its founder. What did Jesus say about himself? While space does not allow us to provide a full treatment of this issue, a person can tell a great deal about Jesus claim in saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-2, 6). Or, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).[3] Paul, a former enemy of Christ and later servant for Christ, wrote pertaining to Jesus that “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Look to Jesus for the case for Christianity and not to the bad behavior of some who claim to be of Christ.

3. Truth is transcendent in its claims.

The truthfulness of any religion or philosophy must be held by the claims made by the particular belief system. Christianity holds to certain foundational tenets: 1) the truth is knowable, 2) God exists, 3) God created all, 4) humanity is fallen, 5) Jesus came to redeem humanity through his crucifixion and resurrection, 6) salvation is found in Jesus, and 7) God will judge the living and the dead. Do the claims of Christianity match with reality?

A full treatment of this topic is not possible within one article. However, to find the truthfulness in Christianity’s claims requires one to investigate the essence of truth. Is truth knowable? To claim that truth is unknowable is a self-refuting claim, thus one can assert that truth is a reality and knowable. Second, God’s existence is a necessity as the existence of anything would require a transcendent intelligence: this supports the 2nd and 3rd tenets. Third, it is a certainty that human beings are not perfect individuals and are capable of doing great evil; making the 4th tenet intelligible. Jesus of Nazareth is a person of history. Manuscript evidence as well as other historical methods demonstrate great reasonability to the 5th tenet. If the first 5 tenets are true, then this lends credence to the 6th and 7th. An investigation of such claims requires much more depth than what is allowable in this article. Nevertheless, one should note that the truthfulness of Christianity does not rest upon its adherents, but rather upon the truth claims presented by Jesus and the early church.

4. Truth is transcendent in its parameters.

As this article has addressed the issue of truth compared to the bad behaviors of particular adherents, it should be noted that truth itself provides parameters. If someone were to ask for a wooden pencil, certain parameters must be met. The thing must be a writing instrument. The instrument should contain lead. The instrument should be made from a wooden casing. These are the parameters that constitute what is commonly known as a pencil. It should be noted that certain things are expected from one who is considered to be a Christian.

Certain parameters exist for a person to be considered a “Christian.” The apostle John in his first letter provides certain parameters that a genuine Christian will possess. They are: holiness (1 John 3:9; 5:18); love for others (1 John 4:7); acceptance of the truth found in Jesus (1 John 5:1); perseverance in one’s faith (1 John 5:1); and the testimony of God through the Holy Spirit’s presence (1 John 5:9-10). These parameters help one to determine those who are truly from God and those who are not (Matthew 7:15-20).

Conclusion

Have you been hurt in church? Have you been hurt by a person who claims to be a Christian? There is a saying that says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” When one dismisses Christianity due to the bad actions of those claiming to be of Christ, a person does precisely just that. They dismiss claims that are transcendent due to individuals who may or may not be of Christ, or may be those who have simply lost their way. Understand that God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christ are a reality. If you have been hurt, incline yourself to the healing hands of God. For it is Christ who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you learn the transcendent truth found in Christ, you may find that you will be given the power to forgive those who have hurt you and help transform a bad situation into a much better one.

Sources Cited

 “Birth of a Team and a Legend.” Packers.com. Accessed September 21, 2015. http://www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend.html.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Copyright September 21, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] This is not meant to degrade anyone. Many of those leaders had not been met with such questions. This should, however, show the great need for apologetics in the modern church.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Some hold that the statement is that of the apostle John summarizing Jesus’ earlier statements in the chapter. Nonetheless, the words relate back to the teaching of Jesus so they are still genuine to the teachings of Christ.

Football Fights and the Fall

Today, I heard a news report that discussed the growing problems of violence among high school football players towards referees and officials. Those working in the realm of high school athletics said that there needed to be “zero-tolerance” for players who assaulted officials or other players on the field and for coaches who promoted such actions. I whole-heartedly agree. However, as it was noted on the newscast, it seems that such actions indicate a greater, growing problem in our culture. But what is the problem?

There is a growing tendency to dismiss authority which has led towards an attitude of anti-authoritarianism; that is, disrespecting all authority. Individuals seem to promote the mentality that a person needs to fight against what is often called “the man.” “The man” is used to reference authority. “The man” may refer to the leaders of the business that employs the individual. Perhaps “the man” references those who enforce laws. Perhaps “the man” are those who make laws. It could even be that “the man” are those in Christian leadership. It is agreed that corruption can, and in fact does, exist in such agencies. However, are aggressive acts such as those implemented by the high school football players the answer? Certainly not! Shouldn’t one find a way to make a difference while still respecting one’s governing authorities? Certainly!

Attitudes of anti-authoritarianism is a human problem that have its roots in the fall. In Genesis chapter 3, Satan tempted and led humanity into sin by the simple words “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1)?[1] Since that time, human beings have questioned the authority of God. Does God really want control over this area of my life? Do I really have to love my neighbor? Anti-authoritarianism finds its root in one’s rebellion against the Supreme Authority–God.

It is true that there are times that the believer must stand opposed to the works of a governing authority. But, those times should only occur when such agencies stand opposed to the principles given by God. For instance, Jesus stood opposed to the Sanhedrin by calling out the sins and discrepancies of the institution, while calling on a higher calling–loving God. But Jesus did not call for hurtful aggressive actions. Rather, he called for one to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Peter, Paul, and the early apostles did not accept the edicts given against them to cease their preaching, yet they did not strike such authorities with the sword. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectfully stood against the Babylonian commands which contradicted their obedience to God, but they did so while still respecting the authority of the king. All of them paid a price. However, their stand was not rooted in anti-authoritarianism. Their stand came by ultimate authoritarianism as they respected the ultimate authority of God.

Let us take care that we do not promote an anti-authoritarian mindset. The apostle Paul wrote that the Christian should “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). If we as a society would teach respect and honor to our authorities…and ultimately to the Supreme Authority–God…then it is certain that we would not have a culture where high school football players would think that it is acceptable to assault the authorities over the game.

Copyright September 18, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Are American Professional Sports Leagues Losing Their Professionalism?

Are American Profession Sports Leagues Losing Their Professionalism?

By: Pastor Brian Chilton

    

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “professionalism” as:

“1     a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession

b : engaged in one of the learned professions

c(1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession

(2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

2       a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs 〈a professional golfer

b : having a particular profession as a permanent career 〈a professional soldier

c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return 〈professional football

3       : following a line of conduct as though it were a profession 〈a professional patriot.”[1]

As far as the second definition, it must be admitted that pro sports are still professional in the sense that athletes are getting paid for a service rendered.  However, for this article, the first definition will be targeted, particularly the definition of 1c…”characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession” and “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.”  Three issues stand out in regard to professional sports leagues in the modern time and the evangelical Christian.  The first relates to that of politics.

Technical Standards or Political Platform

It cannot be said that all sports leagues are guilty of what the NFL and NBA are commonly guilty of committing, but since the NFL is the most popular league right now, the NFL must be examined.  The NFL is, quite frankly, the most guilty of all in allowing their league to become a “political platform” instead of maintaining technical standards.  Take Sunday Night Football on NBC for example.

During the halftime show of almost every Sunday Night Football game, NBC commentator Bob Costas, who is known for his liberal bias, will give a political topic that may loosely be based upon the game.  Let me ask you this: is this a proper platform for Costas’ political agenda?  When a person logs on to our show “Redeeming Truth Radio” at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton, the listener knows what he or she is going to hear.  However, is it fair that Costas is allowed to give his opinion without a differing opinion allowed to be given?  Some will say, “Well, that is the media not the league.”  While that statement is true, the league is allowing this to transpire.  The league permits these platforms because the league depends on the media to a great degree.  How successful would professional sports be if not for the media?  The driving force behind professional sports is money.  The apostle Paul accurately diagnosed the love of money long ago when he wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many grief” (1 Timothy 6:10, NASB).  The love of money causes all kinds of problems.  This love of money has created another unprofessional manner of conduct: a seeming control of beliefs.

Courteous and Businesslike Manner or Control of Beliefs

Another attribute of professionalism is courteous and businesslike manner of conduct.  This courteousness should be revealed in the appreciation of all points of view.  However, this is not the case.  A great case in point is the “blackballing” of Tim Tebow.  Tim Tebow, the former quarterback of the Florida Gators and former quarterback of the Denver Broncos, was traded by the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets.  Why?  Tebow led the team to a first-round victory in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers that year.  Tebow was a great moral player.  While I will admit that he was not the best player that has ever played the position of quarterback, he did hold his own.  It was clear that John Elway, the owner of the Broncos, had his problems with Tebow.  Why?  It had more to do with the religious and political convictions of Tebow more than Tebow’s football performance.  Now that the Jets have dropped Tebow, it does not seem that Tebow will be hired by another team…at least not by the time this article was posted.

Some have dismissed this as a lack of performance by Tebow.  The listener hears such responses as, “Tebow’s playing style does not work in the NFL.”  Well, is it not the same playing style of Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers?  Is it really playing style or beliefs?

Clearly, the problem with Tebow is something much deeper.  Why is it that Tebow was ostracized for his beliefs?  Or was it rather that Tebow was ostracized due to the vocalization of his beliefs?  This seems to be the going trend in the NFL.  Worship the league.  Don’t be an individual.  The famous “end zone celebrations” are so restricted that the originality of the celebrations are taken away.  But, this takes us to another problematic issue with professional sports.  It seems to be the new reigning religion of America.

The Real Problem: America’s New Religion

What is the religion of America?  Some would say that professional sports are the new religion.  With the passionate focus on football, baseball, and other sports with the lack of zeal towards God, truth, and things of substance, it could be said that perhaps sports really are the new religion of America.  Chad Gibbs of the Washington Post writes,

16.3 million is certainly a lot of people, in fact it’s almost as many as 17.3 million, which is the number of people who attended an NFL game in 2009. You see the reason so many people in America check ‘Christian’ on these Religious Identification Surveys is because football is usually not one of the choices. Because if we are being honest here, and who isn’t honest on the Internet, America is really a football nation.[2]

 Could this not be part of the problem with America?  Could it not be that we are falling into the same trap that those of the Roman Empire were before the Roman Empire’s collapse?  After all, sports are only games on the level of Monopoly, Uno, Chess, and Backgammon.  When football coaches speak of running a “play,” it is just that…a “play;” playing a game.  Could professional sports be nothing more than a delusional fantasy…a delusional fantasy that helps people lose focus on the troubles of life: a dreamland where a person can pretend to be a sports star with no apparent problems?  But the truth is, sports stars have their own set of problems.  Some stars have greater problems than the ordinary Joe would ever have to face.  That is at the heart of a delusional fantasy.  The grass is always greener on the other side until you get on the other side and see that the grass is not as green as once thought.

Conclusion

At the heart of it all, there is nothing wrong in enjoying professional and college sports as long as the enjoyment is kept in healthy moderation and does not become a means of escaping reality and responsibility.  The problem lies when leagues lose their professionalism to promote a certain agenda onto the populace.  A greater problem is that many Americans are content with living in a dream world of football, basketball, baseball, and soccer.  It is an opiate that helps to keep a person from dealing with the big issues of life.  Karl Marx once said that “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”  This is of course self-defeating because Marx is giving a religious statement which must then be seen as his own opiate if true.  Acknowledging God’s existence and having a relationship with the Lord does not hide one from his or her problems.  As a matter of fact, God helps us deal with important issues…big issues…and resolve the problems in our lives if we let Him…and if we listen to Him.

Although sports are okay to enjoy in moderation, people must give sports their proper place.  If sports or games of any kind become an opiate for the people (keeping them from dealing with the important issues of life), it would be easy for a person to be brainwashed with any passing fad that the sports leagues wishes to promote.  The combination of unprofessionalism in many sports leagues coupled with the populace allowing professional sports to become their new religion can lead to a mindless, immoral, group of lemmings. This is extremely dangerous.  If one does not believe the danger involved, look at the Roman Empire.  See how the people were engrossed with the games while atrocities were committed.  See how brutality became the norm.  The parallels between the Roman Empire and our modern culture are uncanny.

This is not what God brings to His children.  God through Jesus Christ brings freedom, courage, and morality.  As Paul writes, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father” (Romans 8:15, NASB)!  It is not suggested that a boycott or anything of the sort be conducted against these sports leagues.  I will continue to watch football games and cheer on my favorite teams.  However, it must be suggested that sports, especially in lieu of the recent unprofessionalism, be kept in proper perspective.  For it will not matter how many touchdowns you threw, home-runs you hit, free throws you earned, or goals you scored when you stand before God on Judgment Day.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Brian Chilton


[1] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[2] Chad Gibbs, “Football: America’s National Religion,” Washington Post. September 3rd, 2010, accessed June 3rd, 2013. {http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/09/football_americas_national_religion.html}.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ: Part 5 of 5-Negative Evidence

To hear the audio show that corresponds to this article, click here.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 5 of 5)

“Negative Evidence”

 

By: Pastor Brian Chilton

 

Football is by far my favorite sport.  Being an avid weightlifter, I love watching the power of the men on the football field as they seek to work together for a common cause.  Football teams are comprised of two squads (three if you count special teams): offense and defense.  The offensive squad seeks to score points for the team.  The defensive squad seeks to keep the other team from scoring.  Apologetics is much the same.

In apologetics, two methods are used: positive apologetics and polemics (or negative apologetics).  Positive apologetics seeks to show the reasons why a person should believe in Christianity, whereas polemics seeks to show how other alternatives or worldviews are false.  The first four articles in this series have employed the use of positive apologetics when concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  However, this fifth article will use polemics to defend the resurrection against the false alternatives that have been posited by critics of the faith.  Let us now examine the negative evidence, or seeking to disprove the false alternatives, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Before we do so, let us consider some points that most, if not all, reputable New Testament scholars (liberal and evangelical) accept as valid.

Facts that Must Be Considered

Before we examine the false alternatives, we must first remind the reader of five fundamental truths held by most, if not all, reputable New Testament scholars.

(A)       The Historicity of Jesus of Nazareth

Although some online would like for the reader to think that evidence suggests that Jesus never existed, no reputable scholar would say the same.  The fact is that much ancient evidence suggests Jesus’ existence: New Testament documentation, extra-biblical documentation, and early Christian sites and communities.  If one were to commit his or herself to the belief that Jesus never existed, then the person would not be able to commit him or herself to the belief that any ancient person existed.  Therefore, the reader would be left with no standard in knowing anything about anyone in history.

(B)       The Death of Jesus on the Cross

The death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross is a historical certainty.  For the same reasons listed in (A), we find the cross a historical certainty.  In addition, we also find evidence by way of archaeology to prove that crucifixions occurred exactly as the New Testament describes.

(C)       The Empty Tomb

Although some would deny the validity of the empty tomb, most reputable scholars would concede the existence of the empty tomb.  By empty tomb, we are referring to the fact that the disciples found the tomb of Jesus empty on Easter Sunday morning.  As N.T. Wright writes,

Considering that the canonical gospels undoubtedly reflects the beliefs and hopes of the early Christians, one of the abiding surprises they present is how little they have to say about the topics of resurrection.  Of course, they all end with stories of the empty tomb of Jesus…But we search in vain for extended treatments of the resurrection in the stories that purport to be about the public career of the Jesus whom the early church believed had been raised from the dead.[1]

With this in mind, we find that the empty tomb is a strong historical fact that cannot be ignored.

(D)       The Transformation of the Apostles

The transformation of the apostles is something that even the most liberal skeptic would admit.  Although what transformed the apostles is debated, the fact that the apostles were transformed is undeniable.

(E)       The Martyrdom of the Apostles

Finally, the martyrdom of the apostles cannot be denied.  Although evidence is not as strong for all the apostles’ deaths as it is for Peter, Paul, and James’, for the most part, the apostles’ martyrdom is a strong historical fact.

With these historical criteria in place, it must be explained what took place on Easter Sunday morning.  Something happened that transformed the early Christians.  If the resurrection is not accepted, then something must explain the transformation.  But what?  Let us now examine these alternatives.  Hopefully, the reader will find that the only alternative that works is that which the early church has confessed all along: that Jesus of Nazareth literally resurrected from the dead on Easter Sunday morning.

False Alternative #1: Swoon Theory

The first false alternative is called the “Swoon Theory.”  The Swoon Theory holds that Jesus did not actually die on the cross.  Those who adhere to this alternative believe that Jesus simply passed out and was placed in the tomb.  After three days, the herbs used in burial revitalized the wounded Jesus and He appeared to the disciples on Sunday morning.

This sounds ridiculous from the outset especially when we understand the nature of crucifixion.  Jesus was scourged before being crucified.  Ancient historians tell us that most did not survive the scourgings.  A flagrum, a three-pronged whip filled with bones, nails, and glass, shredded the skin of the victim.  Historians tell us that many times the internal organs were exposed after this brutal beating.  Afterwards, Jesus carried a 110 pound beam to the place where the vertical beam was standing.  After nailing the victim through the wrists, the horizontal beam was lifted and attached to the vertical beam.  After securing the cross, the feet were nailed through with one nail securing the victim to the vertical beam.

John adds that Jesus was pierced in the side with a spear.  This spear would have pierced the heart of Jesus.  John writes, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”[2]  Physicians state that the “blood and water” is an accurate kind of thing.  Under the distress of crucifixion, fluid would build around the pericardium sac, a sac surrounding the heart.  So, if the heart was pierced, blood and fluids would be extracted from the body.

In reality, with the tortures that Jesus endured, it would be more miraculous if He had His skin shredded, nailed through His hands and feet, endured the cross for six hours, somehow managed to trick the Roman soldiers into thinking He was dead, was pierced through the heart with a spear, lay in a cold, damp, tomb for three days with no food and drink, got out of the tightly wound linen wrappings which would have included having the orifices of the body stuffed, rolled a two-ton boulder from the inside of a tomb, and walked up to the disciples proclaiming that He had risen.  For those things to have occurred naturally, this would be a greater miracle than for God to have raised Jesus from the dead.  The Swoon Theory itself swoons from the lack of lack of logic and an uber-dependency upon naturalism.

Problems with: B, D, and E

False Alternative #2: Stolen Body Theory

Some leave the spectrum of the cross and look towards conspiracy to describe the events of Easter Sunday morning.  Some hold that Jesus did die, but that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and falsely proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead.  The early Jewish authorities used this to describe what occurred.  Matthew writes, “When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.”[3]

Several problems exist with this view.  First, how would the disciples make it past the armed Roman guard?  A guard consisted of 8 to 16 highly-skilled, armed Roman soldiers.  Now, how would 11 distressed, unarmored men defeat 16 armored, armed, Roman soldiers trained on the level of Green Berets?  Second, as we mentioned in the last article, several problems exist with conspiracy theories and Christianity.  According to J. Warner Wallace’s standards for conspiracy theories, the resurrection event does not match the standards for these conspiracy theories.[4]  Third, the disciples were not expecting the Messiah to rise from the dead.  The teachings of Jesus that have been preserved speak more to the Kingdom of God than that of the resurrection, although some teachings about the resurrection have been preserved.  Finally, if there was some way that the disciples could get by some of the guards, do you not think that the guards would have told their fellow comrades and crushed the disciples?  For all the bad of the Roman Empire, one thing was clear…the Romans were one of the toughest military regimes in history.  Yet, another alternative deals with the mind.  Let us look now at the “Hallucination Theory.”

Problems with: D and E

False Alternative #3: Hallucination Theory

Some view that the resurrection of Christ was nothing more than a hallucination.  A hallucination is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as the following, “a perception of objects with no reality usually arising from disorder of the nervous system or in response to drugs.”[5]  In other words, a hallucination is seeing something that is not really there.  From the outset, problems pop out as one uses this as an explanation for the resurrection appearances of Christ.

First, hallucinations are internal experiences.  Distressed individuals could potentially see hallucinations especially if they suffer from mental disorders such as schizophrenia.  The disciples do not hold the characteristics of individuals suffering from such disorders.  In addition, remember in our last article that we discussed that at least 500 people saw the risen Lord Jesus at one time.  The number could go up to around 3,000 if only men were listed which seems to be the case.  Hallucinations are not shared by multiple people.  Hallucinations are individual experiences.

Second, the Hallucination Theory does not describe the empty tomb.  If Jesus’ appearances were simply a hallucination, all the enemies of the Christian movement would be required to do would be to expose the tomb and the body of Jesus.  Game over.  Christianity would be dead.  Everyone would know where the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was located due to the proximity to Golgotha and the notoriety of Joseph.  So, it would not have been difficult to present the body if the Hallucination Theory was correct.

Finally, the Hallucination Theory does not answer the multiple appearances to the disciples and the transformation that took place within them.  Those who are grieving loved ones and claim to see their loved ones afterwards do not proclaim that the loved one had been raised from the dead.  The Hallucination Theory is itself proves to be a hallucination to the naturalist.  Next, let us look at a theory that seeks to do away with all the historical factors mentioned earlier in our article.

Problems with: C, D, and E.

False Alternative #4: Mythological Theory

The fourth alternative is the “Mythological Theory.”  Those, such as the producers of the online video Zeitgeist, hold that story of Jesus is a myth and that the resurrection of Jesus is a blend of other mythologies.  More problems exist with this theory than we have time to discuss in this article.  However, we will attempt to look at a few of the problems with this theory.

First, this theory is historically irresponsible.  More evidence exists for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than for any other person in ancient history.  If you were to deny the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, which the earliest gospel account (probably Mark) only dates 20 -25 years from the time of Christ (a time that would allow for many eyewitnesses to still remain alive) compared to Alexander the Great who’s earliest record was recorded 400 years after his death, then you would have to deny every other person of antiquity.  The skeptic who subscribes to this theory will claim that no external evidence exists outside the Bible.  However, the skeptic is flawed.  Josephus describes the essentials of the life of Jesus.  Clement of Rome wrote as well as other extra-biblical writers in the first century.  So, the problem with the skeptic is that he or she chooses not to desire to believe in the historicity of Jesus.  But, is that responsible historical scholarship?  Even the fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins conceded in a debate with John C. Lennox that the majority of reputable scholars accept the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Second, the Mythology Theory fails in thinking that the disciples expected the Messiah to rise from the dead.  This is just not so.  Although prophecies did exist that the Messiah would rise from the dead, those prophecies were not explicit.  Jews of the first century expected a Messiah who would raise up a military revolt against Rome not a Divine Messiah preaching peace and forgiveness.

Finally, the Mythology Theory fails in its’ assumption that myths existed prior to the rise of Christianity which proclaimed a Messiah which would die and resurrect from the dead.  The only contender is the pagan god Mithras.  The problem with attributing the worship of Mithras to Christianity is that the worship of Mithras came after the rise of Christianity.  Therefore, if there was any influence, the worshippers of Mithras were affected by Christianity instead of vice versa.  So, we see that the Mythological Theory fails miserably in its’ attempt to explain the resurrection of Christ and should not be accepted by any rational person despite his or her philosophical backdrop.  The next theory is more respectable than the Mythological Theory, but it still fails miserable.  It is the “Mistaken Tomb Theory.”

Problems with: A, B, C, D, and E.

False Alternative #5: Misplaced Tomb Theory

The fifth alternative is that of the “Misplaced Tomb Theory.”  Those who adhere to this theory believe that the women and disciples were mistaken about which tomb Jesus was buried.  When they traveled to the wrong tomb, they naturally assumed that Jesus had risen.  This theory is easily dismissed by two points.

First, the disciples were not assuming that the Messiah would rise from the dead.  This cannot be stressed enough.  It may even sound like a broken record, but it must be stressed.  The disciples did not understand that Jesus would rise by their own admission.  John writes even when documenting his first trip to the empty tomb, “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”[6]  So, there was a misunderstanding even from the beginning.

Second, if it was true that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb, all that would have occurred would be that the authorities would have pointed the masses to the correct tomb and ended Christianity before it even started to take off.  Plus, this theory does not deal with the transformation of the disciples and their willingness to die for what they claimed to see.  This theory is itself misplaced.  The next theory is promoted by John Dominick Crossan.  It is called the “Shallow Tomb Theory.”

Problems with: C, D, and E.

False Alternative #6: Shallow Tomb Theory

Some such as John Dominick Crossan, famed from the notorious Jesus Seminar, claim that Jesus’ body was placed in a shallow grave after His crucifixion.  Adherents to this view believe that the body of Jesus was probably devoured by dogs or wild animals.  While this was a practice in Roman times, it was not as well-practiced in Jewish society due to the taboo that Judaism placed on exposed dead bodies.  Did the Romans really care what the Jews thought?  Not really.  But, the Roman authorities, especially Pontius Pilate, desired to keep the peace as much as possible in what was a volatile area.  Several problems exist with this theory.

First, the theory negates the historicity of the empty tomb.  Joseph of Arimathea was a historical character.  Joseph of Arimathea is described as a member of the Sanhedrin.  When the Gospel of Mark and Matthew were written, it is very likely that Joseph and many members of the Sanhedrin were still alive.  Many who knew these facts could verify the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea.  Therefore, if Joseph of Arimathea were not a real person, then the story of Christianity would have become unbelievable from the beginning.  The empty tomb can be attributed to association with the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea.  Quite frankly, the story of the empty tomb holds due to the embarrassment of the story.  Consider this; the disciples were not able to give Jesus a proper burial.  The only one who was able to do so was Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the very Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus in the first place.

Second, the theory does not answer the transformation of the apostles and disciples.  Why would the disciples make up a story about something they were not even expecting and die for the lie that they concocted?  If they were expecting a military leader, why not join up with a rebellion leader instead of continuing the story of Jesus?  It makes no sense.  So the “Shallow Tomb Theory” is shallow at best.  Next, we find a theory based on mistaken identity.

Problems with: C, D, and E.

False Alternative #7: Mistaken Identity Theory

Some adhere to a “Mistaken Identity Theory.”  In other words, some feel that Jesus was not really crucified, but someone who looked like Jesus was crucified in His place.  Three problems exist with this theory.

First, this theory insults the intelligence of the Romans and the Jewish authorities.  Surely, they had seen Jesus in the public square.  He had been seen near the Temple.  He had been seen in the countryside.  He had been seen by many if not most of the people in Jerusalem.  Can one really believe that the Romans and the Jewish authorities would get this wrong?  The authorities wanted Jesus dead.  They would not make a mistake of this magnitude.  What about Judas?  Some say that Judas was crucified in Jesus’ place.  Is this possible?  Well, yes it is possible but it is not probable.  The early disciples attest to the depravity of Judas.  The women were there to see Jesus crucified and so was John.  This is highly unlikely and just does not fit the facts.

Second, the theory does not fit the character of Jesus.  Jesus had extremely high standards.  Would the disciples continue to appreciate the teachings of Jesus if He had in fact approved of treachery and deception?  The theory just does not fit.

Finally, if the theory is true, what ever happened to Jesus after the deception?  Why would He disappear while His disciples were being persecuted?  This would not be the mark of a good leader.  It would be the mark of a traitor.  This again does not fit the character of Jesus.  Therefore, we must proclaim that the “Mistaken Identity Theory” is simply mistaken.  Finally, the most bizarre alternative of all is given.  This theory classifies Jesus as an Extra-Terrestrial life-form or that Jesus was taken away by aliens.

Problems with: B, C, D, and E.

False Alternative #8: Alien Abduction Theory

Thankfully, the theory of “Alien Abduction” has not received much attention.  It has not been promoted by many except for some late night radio shows and some bizarre online personalities.  This theory is promoted by many who have a passion for UFOs, conspiracy theories, and aliens.  Some radical conspiracy theorists believe that Jesus was abducted by aliens or that Jesus Himself was an alien and played a trick on the disciples…(rolling my eyes as I type).  Really?  Do we really even need to address this theory?  The disciples knew that Jesus was a person.  No aliens here.  No spaceships.  Give my regards to the big-headed, green men from planet X.  One thing we can extract from this crazy theory is the ridiculous measures skeptics choose to accept instead of accepting the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Problems with: B, C, D, and E.

Conclusion:

I am an avid weightlifter.  Someone told me about a man by the name of Gene Rychlak who bench-pressed over 1,000 pounds for the first time in recorded history.  I thought, “There is no way that a human being could bench-press that much.”  So, I examined some powerlifting sites that documented his lift.  Also, some who witnessed the event recorded Rychlak’s incredible lift and posted it on YouTube.  Although it was difficult to fathom, I had to accept the fact that a human being named Gene Rychlak of Pennsylvania bench-pressed half a ton because the cumulative evidence led towards that belief. 

During the course of these past five articles, we have examined the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When you examine the cumulative evidence, it can be seen that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact.  Some may seek to refute it.  But, we have seen that these refutations fail.  Some will still not be able to accept the resurrection due to the implications of the resurrection.  However, if that is the case, the Christian cannot be deemed delusional; the skeptic would.  What will you do with the evidence?  Will you embrace its’ conclusions or continue to deny its’ truth?  Who will you say Jesus is?  If you still reject Jesus, you had better hope you are right, because if you are not, you may be playing Russian roulette with your very soul.

Suggested Reads:

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Michael Licona and Gary Habermas

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright

The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas


[1] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 401.

[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), John 19:34.

[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mt 28:12–14.

[4] See chapter 7 of J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity.

[5] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), John 20:9.