As Easter approaches, now is the time to address the most familiar escape route from the biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection and its profound implications: the myth hypothesis. Perhaps this alternative gains support from the eventual debunking of popular stories long held as truths—such as the myth that Columbus’s contemporaries believed the Earth to be flat—but it doesn’t withstand these three (among other) tests of evidence and logic.
Notes on the “Myth” Hypothesis
Oxford scholar A. N. Sherwin-White, a specialist in ancient Greek and Roman history, observes that myth and legend require time to develop. Typically, distortions accrue over the span of two full generations or more. Legend cannot replace fact so long as eyewitnesses remain alive to set the record straight. No such time gap exists in this instance.
Manuscript evidence indicates the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which report Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, were written within 30 years—less than one generation—from the date of the event’s occurrence. Source criticism suggests that oral and possibly written accounts predated the early Greek Gospels. This source material bridges the gap even more tightly between the resurrection and its documentation.
As for the reasoning that typifies arguments against the resurrection, it may best be described as circular: myth hypothesis advocates reject the resurrection because they reject the divinity of Christ, and they reject the divinity of Christ because they reject the accuracy of the Gospels, which they reject because the Gospels report miracles, such as the miracle of the Incarnation (i.e., the divinity of Christ). This circle reveals an underlying anti-supernatural bias. The problem is one of presupposition, not of historicity.
The Gospel accounts stand apart from mythical literature in both content and style. Jesus’ miracles, unlike the bizarre and sometimes frivolous “miracles” of myth or legend, meet legitimate human needs and glorify God the Father. Resurrection myths about pagan deities (Osiris, Adonis, Mithras, etc.), often associated with fertility rites, bear no resemblance to the account of Jesus’ resurrection, nor do they have even a modicum of the Gospels’ historical foundation.What’s more, the apostles staked their very lives on the truth of the resurrection. No amount of torture could shake the certainty of what their eyes had seen. It seems reasonable to base our confidence on theirs.