One week after April Fool's day Christians will celebrate Easter to remember the resurrection of Jesus. My claim is that there is nothing to celebrate because Jesus never arose from the dead. Whether Jesus arose from the grave is a historical claim, and only as strong as historial claims can be. If God chose to reveal himself in the historical past then he chose a poor medium to do so. However, the Easter "event" is not just a historical claim. It is also a miraculous claim in history. As such it can be even more easily be doubted, especially when the Bible itself tells us that ancient people were very superstitious.
I have read several books, essays, and Blogs where Christians claim that the early church believed Jesus bodily arose from the dead. I disagree that the church had a uniform testimony about this. Along with Matthew J. Green I think their belief about Jesus came about through a series of visions.
But even if I were to grant that the early church believed Jesus bodily rose from the grave, so what? Big deal. Why should I believe what they did? Why? We reject many ideas that the ancients believed. There are many ancient philosophical, theological, historical and psychological ideas which we reject today. A whole book could be written about these mistaken beliefs. Why should I believe anything an ancient person believed? I certainly shouldn't believe it simply because it can be shown that an ancient person (or persons) believed it, especially if it has to do with something miraculous, since nearly all ancient people believed in the miracles done at the hands of their gods and goddessess.
Christians stress that because the resurrection happened it means God exists, the Bible is true, and there will come a day when we will all be judged and rewarded for what we do on earth. There are intellectual difficulties with each of these beliefs, of course.
But there are two specific problematic beliefs Christians are led to accept if Jesus arose from the dead. If Jesus arose then there is a Triune God. How did we get "three" Gods? Richard Swinburne argues that a first God could eternally “create” a second and even a third God who “proceeds” from the first God. He argues there was no reason to eternally create any other Gods, since love would be complete in three Gods and no more. He concludes that “if there is at least one God, then there are three and only three Gods,” since “there is something profoundly imperfect and therefore inadequately divine in a solitary God.” ["Could There Be More Than One God?" Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 5, No. 3, July '88):225-241].
The whole reason Swinburne stops at three Gods is because he's a Trinitarian Christian. He bases his philosophical analysis upon his understanding of ancient historical documents in the Bible. If the Bible had taught there were two or four divine persons in the Godhead, then Swinburne would've stopped his analysis at two or four Gods, not three. What needs to be asked of Swinburne is how one God can eternally create "uncreated" Gods in the first place. These are just meaningless words, in my opinion. One cannot use the word create to describe an uncreated being, otherwise these words have no meaning. Swinburne must also explain how any being (man or God) can create an equal. This too makes little sense. For if the two other Gods are created by the first God, then these two other Gods are lesser in quality than the first God, and not fully God.
There is a second additional problem. If Jesus arose then there was at least one person who was 100% man and 100% God with nothing left over, which involves several serious internal problems.
So which is more likely, given that history is a poor medium for God to reveal himself in miraculous deeds, and given the superstitious nature of the ancient people? Either Christians like Swinburne are correct about the origins of the Trinity, and that the logical problems with the incarnation can be reconciled, or historical claims of miraculous deeds in the ancient superstitious past did not happen as reported. Such things were either visionary in nature, which we see in several passages in the Bible (below), or these purported miracles were as uneventful as Benny Hinn's miracles are today. The choice seems obvious to me.
A brief footnote about visions.
According to the Prophet Joel, Peter the Apostle, and the gospel writer Luke who records it, dreams, visions, and prophecies have a close connection with each other. "'In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.'" (Acts 2:17). "Vision" according to the New Bible Dictionary: "The borderline between vision and dream or trance is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Visions had close connections with the dream-state (Num. 12:6; Job 4:13)."
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, didn’t actually see angels, he saw a vision (Luke 1:22). The women who went to the tomb of Jesus said they didn’t see angels, just a vision. (Luke 24:23). Ananias saw visions and followed them to speak to Saul/Paul (Acts 9:10, 17). At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius who received a vision (Acts 10:1-3). The Apostle Peter himself learned through a vision that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:5-6,18). Peter received his “vision,” while “in a trance.” Paul himself received a vision while in a trance (Acts 22:17), as did the Old Testament prophet Daniel (8:18, 10:9).
Ancient people would put themselves in a trance to gain divine knowledge. How often did Peter and Paul do that? The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon tells us that “Trance” equals “ecstasy,” “throwing of the mind out of its normal state, alienation of mind, whether such as makes a lunatic or that of a man who by some sudden emotion is transported as it were out of himself, so that in this rapt condition, although he is awake, his mind is drawn off from all surrounding objects and wholly fixed on things divine that he sees nothing but the forms and images lying within, and thinks that he perceives with his bodily eyes and ears realities shown him by God.”
Paul’s missionary journeys are said to be directed by visions, which happened in the night (Acts 16:9-10), hence dreams. In Acts 18:9 it is said that Paul was once again in a trance. Paul even equates his Damascus Road conversion experience to a vision, “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19).
Why should anyone today believe what an ancient person was led to believe because of a dream-like trance-induced vision? How does anyone know that such visions were actually from God, especially when we have logical difficulties with Christianity that we can think through? I'll go with logic over history everytime, especially a miraculous history which can be attributed to visions. A foreknowing and omniscient God should've easily known that history is a poor medium to reveal himself in, especially if he did so in an ancient superstitious era. If he did so, he's not too bright, for there is every reason for us to disbelieve today. If God just doesn't care if we disbelieve, then he doesn't care for us at all, especially if there is a hell for people who cannot believe, like me.