Is Jesus' Resurrection Just a Legend?

St. Francis of Assisi is everyone’s favorite saint.  One reason he’s so popular is his love for creation, for nature, and, in particular, for the animals.  That’s why on his feast day every year—even though it can get a little messy and chaotic!—many churches invite people to bring their pets in for a “Blessing of the Animals” service. 


In pictures, Francis is often depicted surrounded by animals, tenderly caring for them.  There are even stories about him being able to communicate with the animals.  In one famous story I’ve heard many times over, he even tames and then befriends a lion through his calming ability to speak to the animals.  This image of Francis peacefully coexisting with wild beasts is behind much of the unique affection we feel for him.

But while this image is very enchanting and I wish it were true, these stories of Francis taming wild animals are pure legend.  They never happened.  They’re a myth based on the very special place all of creation—including the animal kingdom—had in his spirituality.  After he died, they developed over time based on this special love and emphasis of his. 

Like these stories of Francis taming the wild beasts, could Jesus’ Resurrection also just be a legend?  Like Francis, could it just have developed over time based on the profound impact He had, especially the special relationship with God He exhibited in His spirituality? 

In fact, isn’t it more plausible?  Isn’t it more plausible to think the Resurrection is just a legend that developed over time too, rather than being some kind of super-miracle, the miracle of all miracles? 

Someone recently asked this very question, and in a unique and compelling way.  Here’s how they framed it: It seems reasonable enough to imagine that Jesus’ disciples were so impressed by Him, especially by the special relationship He seemed to have with God, that, after his death, they continued to meet together to talk about His ideas, sayings, and legacy.  It’s also reasonable to imagine that, while they were doing this, they might have heard that his body went missing from its tomb.  Then, shortly after, it’s reasonable to imagine that some of His disciples might have had vivid dreams or even visions of Him alive. 

Given Jesus’ special relationship with God, the most natural thing for these disciples to believe is that God had vindicated Him.  With His body missing, the most natural thing for them to believe is that He had been taken up into Heaven, “assumed” like the Old Testament prophet Elijah.  Then, it’s only much later, when the Gospel writers put pen to papyrus some thirty to sixty years after Jesus’ death, that anyone ever claimed Jesus was physically resurrected, that He appeared to the disciples bodily.

I know this question can seem terribly abstract and irrelevant.  So, why bother with it?

Here’s why: Among those scholars who don’t believe in the Resurrection, this is the most popular alternative explanation they offer for it, by far.  In other words, this is the best explanation they have for the bedrock facts virtually everyone who seriously studies the Resurrection readily accepts—the Resurrection is a later legend built around the unique impression Jesus made on His disciples, the unusual circumstances surrounding His death, and the time delay before the Gospels were written. 

And here’s why this really matters: If they’re right, if the Resurrection is just a legend like Francis taming the wild beasts, then we have no real hope.  All we have is wishful thinking—in the face of COVID or anything else. 

So especially now, especially as this pandemic drags on, there couldn’t be more at stake.  Jesus conquering death is the only solid hope we have, the only solid hope that there is some greater, ultimate good that will come out of all this. 

But, take heart!  There are a number of powerful responses to this question that give us every reason to hope, every reason to believe that Jesus’ Resurrection isn’t just a legend.  I will share some of them over the next several blogs.

Before I do, though, I’d love to hear how you’d respond to this question.  Do you believe Jesus’ Resurrection is just a legend?  If not, if you think it’s a genuine miracle, how would you respond to this explanation?  You can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  I’d love to hear from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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