Apr 6, 2009

Media Bias and the Resurrection of Jesus

3 Min Read

The military of ancient Rome really blew it. When it came to the resurrection of Jesus, the troops who guarded his tomb could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble by just giving up his dead body. One problem: they never did. They didn't because they couldn't. And they couldn't because, despite what you may have read, the resurrection of Jesus was and is a well-attested fact, perhaps the best-attested fact of antiquity.

Neither the Romans nor the Jews of Jesus' day denied it. In fact, practically nobody denied it for 1,700 years. But now it's fashionable to deny it or, at least, to cast doubt on it. Why? Has the evidence changed? No, the testimony of history is still the same. As Thomas Arnold, former chair of Modern History at Oxford University, once wrote, "I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God [has] given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead" (see his Sermons on the Christian Life: Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close [6th ed.; London, 1859] 324).

Well, if the historical evidence is so clear, why do certain scholars and laypeople discount Jesus' resurrection? For some it's simply that they're not informed about the facts. For many others, however, it's because they have a bias against the miraculous. Both of these factors show up in certain media presentations on the resurrection.

Take, for example, the argument that, because there is a gap of 40 years between the first Gospel and the resurrection event itself, we can state nothing historical about Jesus' resurrection. Is this 40-year gap a problem? Certainly not. The earliest New Testament documents -- the apostle Paul's letters from the late 40s and early 50s -- testify that, while he was writing those letters, over 500 people who had seen the resurrected Jesus were still alive and talking about it. The point is, the apostle's letters narrow the gap between the Gospel accounts and the resurrection event itself to about 20 years, and his testimony is unquestionably compatible with that of the Gospels. Is it true, then, that the compelling details about Jesus' resurrection were nowhere to be found before the first Gospel was written? No, those details were publicly available in the witness of the early church and in the apostles' earliest letters.

What about the Jesus Seminar's claim that the idea of a physical resurrection was historically just one of several ways to give meaning to Jesus' life and death? Well, consider the source. Richard B. Hays, New Testament professor at The Divinity School of Duke University, minces no words about the Jesus Seminar: "most professional biblical scholars are profoundly skeptical of the methods and conclusions of this academic splinter group. ... [T]heir attempt to present [their] views as 'the assured results of critical scholarship' is reprehensible deception" ("The Corrected Jesus," First Things [May 1994] 47). It is time, isn't it, that the media stopped taking the Jesus Seminar seriously?

Non-miraculous explanations of Jesus' resurrection only rewrite the evidence to suit themselves. The fact is, only the miraculous explanation makes sense of all the New Testament evidence, the disciples' transformed lives, and the early church's phenomenal growth. Someone may say that the miraculous explanation is beyond the ability of the historian to prove. But this is only true if we start with the bias that the miraculous is not part of history. Even the disciples themselves were initially skeptical of Jesus' resurrection -- and they were convinced of it once they saw, heard, and touched Him in His resurrection body.

Finally, we have to ask, why do the media choose to cast doubt only on Christianity during its holiest seasons? As a friend of mine says, it's how non-Christians in the media celebrate the holidays.

Then again, would the media do the same to Islam during Ramadan or to Judaism during Passover? No, that wouldn't be "fair." Fairness is as fairness does. Discerning media watchers expect nothing less. Neither does Jesus, our resurrected Lord.