Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 3

Merging Easter with Halloween

I’m sure Christian commitment can be rated, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10. Those whom we would rate as “tens” are fervent, unshakable in their belief: they are the untouchables, the unreachables—in terms of getting them to grasp the incoherence of Christian theology. But then there are those at the other end of the scale, who would earn a “one” rating; even “lukewarm” would be a generous description. They would walk away from the faith—and many probably do—with little hesitation or regret.


There are those in the middle of the scale, the “fives,” who are regular churchgoers, but who admit—at least to themselves—that they have doubts. They go along with it all because church is what they do. But the right argument, or the wrong personal tragedy, might puncture faith, temporarily or forever.



When we set out to make the case that the triumph of Easter morning never happened, nothing we could say will impact the “tens.” Whenever there is intense emotional investment, especially if eternal life is at stake, reasoned arguments are deflected, denied, ignored. A devout Catholic woman was totally honest with me once: she would hold firmly to her faith, at all costs, because she wanted to see her mother again in heaven. Full stop. Such acute emotional investment commonly is anchored early in life: a view of reality instilled by parents and religious authorities; it is so much a part of identity that it is unshakable.   


But maybe the “fives” will listen. Just what is the right argument to reach these folks, in particular about the central doctrine of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus?—which is especially plagued by incoherence.


We can start with a discussion of probabilities. Theists are fond of dwelling on possibilities, hoping to get away with defense of miracles, but Bertrand Russell demonstrated that the far better approach is probabilities. In this famous example, Russell wondered if it is probable that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Mars and Earth. The odds against such a teapot are—so to speak—astronomical. 


The resurrection of Jesus provides an obvious parallel. British scholar A. N. Wilson spoke candidly when he remarked that this story is “palpably and obviously untrue—bodies do not, in our kosmos, resurrect themselves.” And John Loftus, in his essay, “The Resurrection of Jesus Never Took Place,” in his anthology, The Case Against Miracles, quotes Michael Shermer:


“The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find” (p. 491).

The article, Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 1, is here. A brief video commentary is here.


Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 2, is here. A brief video commentary is here.


My brief video on Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 3, is here.



The discussion commonly shifts to defense of miracles. Even the “fives,” despite doubts and hesitations, are still willing to grant that God can do miracles whenever he pleases, little realizing that this, in fact, increases the incoherence of Christian theology. On this, see especially Matt McCormick’s essay, “God Would Not Perform Miracles,” in The Case Against Miracles.


Here’s a little flavor of the incoherence: John Hamill on Twitter this week noted a story in an Italian newspaper:


“The blood of early Church martyr St. Januarius liquified in Naples Saturday, repeating a miracle dating at least to the 14th century. The blood was declared to have turned from solid to liquid at 10:02 a.m. in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary Sept. 19, the feast of St. Januarius. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, announced the news to a mostly empty cathedral, due to coronavirus restrictions.

Hamill commented:  “Jesus has decided to answer the prayers of the Italian faithful, by liquifying the blood of a First Century Neapolitan. Unfortunately, Jesus has decided not to answer the Pope’s prayers for an end to the pandemic, so nobody was there to see the miracle.”


But, putting miracles aside, I would argue that blunders in the Bible are all we need to show that the Jesus resurrection story lacks any substance. What, after all, is the context for that story? Other ancient religions and cults believed in the resurrection  of gods, which should make us suspicious: religions borrow and share ideas. But let’s just stick to the context of the gospels themselves. What do other gospel resurrections tell us? 


Consider these two verses, Matthew 10:7-8, in which Jesus authorizes his disciples to go off on a preaching mission: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’’’ It’s easy to miss the challenges this text poses for Christianity: can it distance itself from cult superstitions of the time? Other cults believed that their magicians could cure the sick, their exorcists could cast out demons. 


But Jesus also tells his disciples to raise the dead. So that was a thing? A Galilean peasant preacher could transfer special powers—to his fellow peasant preachers—that enabled them to raise the dead? If you cherish an image of Jesus Superhero, well, why not? But let’s keep grounded in the real world. Here above all, of course, we must raise the issue of probabilities. What is more probable: That a wandering band of disciples raised the dead OR that this is a genre of folklore common in the ancient world? 


We would have expected this spectacle—dead people being raised as the disciples went about their travels—to have created a major sensation. But, as with everything else in the gospels, there is no hint of such events in histories recorded at the time. 


The other gospels missed it as well. Mark, in his chapter 3, also reports that Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, but these two verses in Matthew aren’t in Mark. When Luke—prone to fantasy though he was—saw these verses in Matthew, he simply left them out. The story does not appear in John’s gospel. 


But this offhand comment that Matthew scripted for Jesus—“raise the dead”—is minor compared to his biggest blunder that puts resurrection firmly in the context of superstition. I’m sure many Christians are not even aware of these verses,  Matthew 27:52-53, which describe the moment Jesus died:


“The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”   


Once again we should consider probabilities; which is more likely in the real world: that a whole lot of people were resurrected Easter weekend and walked around Jerusalem OR that this story belongs to the genre of tall tales that will later be associated with Halloween? Apologists try to dismiss Matthew 27:52-53 precisely because it splices Halloween into Easter: “Well this is obviously a tall tale, Matthew got carried away…let’s see what we can do to interpret it metaphorically.” 


But this embarrassment hits us—as it should Christians—with full force: in ancient folklore, gods—and in Matthew’s story, ordinary folks—could come back from the dead. Yet Christians say, “But our story about Jesus is true.” 


Why should anyone believe them? 


How could they make their case, to get us to believe them? We have a simple request: show us the evidence. Of course, the apostle Paul’s visions (= hallucinations) of the dead Jesus talking to him don’t count; hence apologists have tried forever to position the gospel accounts as evidence. Secular historians are stunned by this ploy; they survey the gospel stories of Easter morning and say, “This is it?”  


These accounts are extraordinarily insufficient. For starters, Robert Conner calls attention to this:


“… according to the canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—no one actually sees Jesus rise from the dead. Cook on that for a minute. Despite repeated predictions that Jesus will rise from the dead after three days (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34), not a single one of his apostles shows up to see it happen. Let’s hear that again just to be sure: No. One. Actually. Sees. Jesus. Leave. The. Tomb.” (, 5 February 2019)


The gospels offer four contradictory versions of what happened subsequently at the empty tomb—and in the days that followed—and of course the fundamental issue has to be: where did the authors get their information? What were their sources? It has long been the agony of New Testament scholars that there is no contemporaneous documentation for anything in the gospels, e.g., letters and diaries written soon after events. The gospels were created decades after the supposed events—and they are a mash-up of folklore, fantasy, and magical thinking, Matthew’s zombies being just one example. Even devout New Testament scholars know this is what they’re dealing with, and the scholarly output about these problems has been voluminous. 


On top of these problems, we have to deal with the dishonesty of Christian apologists. Keeping laypeople in the dark seems to be one of their primary goals, and Paul Copan tries hard:


“…we could view Moses as something of an editor of the Pentateuch, who appropriates oral traditions and writings related to creation and patriarchal history. Later in the New Testament, Luke 1:1-4 reveals an orderly research project investigating the Jesus traditions that had accumulated in order to compile a trustworthy biography of Jesus. These human endeavors, writing styles, literary genres, and personalities are part of the Spirit-inspired enscripturation process.” (Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, p. 89) 


There are so many errors here—so much misinformation—I could write an article about just this one paragraph. No competent historian would dare to suggest that any author—from antiquity or the present—is Spirit-inspired; Copan is steeped in his faith-bias. Apologists have long cherished Luke 1:1-4, but it is a claim—a bit of bragging and positioning—lacking evidence and documentation. The gospels fail to qualify as “trustworthy biography” because no contemporaneous documentation about Jesus has ever been found, and is never cited. None. For a comparison, check out serious biographies of historical figures written since the development of correct historical method. They cite their sources, usually in exhaustive detail.  


So we’re back to our request for evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. As it turns out, the gospel writers do betray their sources. Robert Conner carefully analyzed the gospel resurrection accounts and was struck by how much they resemble other tales from the ancient world. I highly recommend his book, Apparitions of Jesus: The Resurrection as Ghost Story.  


Let’s get back to Matthew’s zombies. Whatever happened to them? He doesn’t say. Did he imagine that they wandered back to their tombs and resumed being dead? Well, who cares, I suppose. But a resurrected Jesus presents a huge problem that the New Testament fails to solve. What to do with his body? As I have stressed a lot lately, the Ascension story in Acts 1 is fake news. Do Christians really believe that Jesus rose up through and out of the biosphere? Maybe they just don’t think much about it. Jesus was stuck here on planet Earth. Just like those zombies, he died again. Hence Christian theology about Jesus “triumphing over death” is dead as well. What a mess.


Matthew’s zombie story, 27:52-53, is a major Bible Blunder. It provides a stark reminder that resurrection is one among many ancient superstitions.  



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 400 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.