Was Jesus a Legend?

We’ve been looking at the resurrection of Jesus in our last few posts.  We introduced the minimal facts approach to Jesus’ resurrection.  I then explained the minimal facts we would be using as we looked at alternate explanations for the resurrection.  We explained why facts 1-4, 5-8 and 9-12 are accepted by nearly all scholars in the field of New Testament scholarship.  Many of the scholars that accept these facts are none the less, skeptical of the resurrection.  In this post, we’ll look at the first of the alternate explanation.  Was Jesus A Legend?

Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend

C.S. Lewis made famous the “Lord, Liar, Lunatic” conundrum. It is best presented in his book “Mere Christianity”: 

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”

Was Jesus a Legend?

As I have mentioned before, a fourth possibility has been raised by critics.  The “Legend” theory has been put forth as another explanation for the resurrection.  Critics claim that Jesus as presented in the Gospels is simply a legend that grew over time. This claim can be proved false using a number of different lines of reasoning.  For this post however, we are going to speak specifically to the challenge as it relates to the resurrection.

Before we look at the objection, let’s review our 12 minimal facts on the resurrection. 

The facts:

  1. Jesus died by Roman Crucifixion.
  2. He was buried, most likely in a private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea
  3. Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent having lost hope.
  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his burial
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
  6. Due to these experiences, the disciple’s lives were thoroughly transformed, to the point of being willing to die for this belief. 
  7. The resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
  8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
  9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
  10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
  11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he saw the resurrected Jesus.
  12. A few years later, Paul became a Christian believer due to an experience which he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus. 

Does The Legend Theory Fit The Facts?

As you can see, the “Legend” theory has almost no explanatory power when faced with the facts as presented. There is simply too much evidence inside and outside of the New Testament to allow for this explanation.  It fails on every point.  

Was Jesus a Legend?

The Legend theory makes no sense of Jesus’ death by crucifixion or his burial.  It doesn’t explain the change in the Disciples or why they began quickly preaching the resurrection. The early church wouldn’t have grown in Jerusalem where the events could easily be proven true or false.  The conversions of Paul and James make no sense if Jesus never existed.  They would not have deserted their beliefs for a known legend. 

The accounts of the conversions and the recording of the events are too close to the time of the event for legend to creep in.  The reason for this is that witnesses could testify to what actually happened.  If the Disciples were preaching a risen Jesus where none existed, the movement would have died out quickly.  If the resurrection were just a legend, outside accounts from hostile sources confirming the events would not exist either.

 So was Jesus a Legend?  

The facts say no.  This is perhaps the worst alternate explanation for the resurrection out there.  In our next post, we’ll look at the swoon theory. This argument asserts that Jesus never actually died on the cross.  He was just wounded and revived in the cool of the tomb.  What do you think of this theory?  Can you see where it doesn’t fit the facts?  If not, I’ll walk you through the points in my next post.  

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