I posted a poll question on A Clear Lens’ Twitter that asked how our followers would respond if this happened:
“Archaeologists found an authenticated ossuary box from the 1st century full of bones and a note that read, ‘These are the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified by Pontius Pilate. We lied about Jesus rising from the dead. – Peter, James, John, and Paul.’”
And these were the poll results:
- Still Believe – 58%
- Leave Christianity – 32%
- Change Religions – 7%
- Reinterpret Parts of NT – 3%
The basic question behind the poll is this: What would I do if it could be proven that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead? Would I continue to believe in Jesus? Would I adopt a completely new interpretation of Jesus’ resurrection? Would I change my religion to something else? Or would I abandon Christianity and religion altogether?
Let’s take a look at each of these possible responses.
Still Believe/Reinterpret Parts of the New Testament
I put these two options together because I would have to reinterpret parts of the New Testament to continue believing in Jesus. I think this would limit me to one theological option:
I would have to be convinced the New Testament teaches that Jesus rose spiritually.
In other words, his corpse remained in the tomb but His Spirit appeared to the disciples and ascended into God’s presence. However, there are major hurdles to cross before I could be convinced of this interpretation. First, the Gospels all record that the tomb was empty. Second, Jesus’ appearances in the Gospels seem to be physical in nature (i.e. eating fish, talking, and so on).
I think these hurdles alone would leave the New Testament in ruins, thus making it even harder for me to continue believing in Jesus.
As it stands now, the only other religion that I would entertain is Judaism. I would have to reinterpret Messianic prophecies that applied to Jesus among other things such as the Trinity. I might also have to give up inerrancy based on these things. I think the evidence for God and the reliability of the Old Testament texts would still appeal to me.
Most people who voted this option on the poll probably did so because of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19:
“…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
But notice something about what Paul said here. He does not say that he would stop believing in God altogether if Christ was not raised. Instead, Paul would continue to believe in Yahweh and would repent for misrepresenting God to others.
This is why I think it’s probable that Paul would return to his roots of Judaism if Jesus’ body was discovered while Paul was alive. This is another reason why I think I would at least consider converting to Judaism if Christ did not rise physically.
I am actually surprised that such a high number of people would still believe in Christianity if we found Jesus’ bones. I don’t think I could follow Jesus anymore because he would have ended up like any other religious leader in the world: dead and buried.
This question is an interesting thought experiment because it makes you think how you would respond if your worldview was significantly challenged. It also makes you consider why you actually believe in Jesus, which is something that all apologists need to wrestle with so that they can engage the world around them.
One more thing:
“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20 NIV).