FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Is the Resurrection a Hoax?

with Josh McDowell | March 22, 2005
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Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on the resurrection. On today's broadcast, Josh McDowell, author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, tells the story of three persons who tried to refute the resurrection based on historical fact and became believers instead.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on the resurrection. On today's broadcast, Josh McDowell, author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, tells the story of three persons who tried to refute the resurrection based on historical fact and became believers instead.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Josh McDowell tells the story of three persons who tried to refute the resurrection.

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Is the Resurrection a Hoax?

With Josh McDowell
March 22, 2005
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Josh: A solid-rock tomb, one entrance, 4.5 to 5 feet tall, 100-and-some pound encasement around the body, one-and-a-half to two-ton stone rolled against the entrance, a 16-man security unit placed there, and a Roman seal.  Now, ladies and gentlemen, you don't have to have a lot of shots upstairs to realize something happened almost 2,000 years ago this world has not gotten over with yet.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we'll reexamine the evidence that supports the claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  Do you remember where you were when you first heard Josh McDowell talk about the resurrection of Jesus?

Dennis: I don't remember the exact room, but I was at the University of Arkansas, and all I know, Bob, is it was a life-altering message, because, personally, in my own faith, I had been struggling with doubts, and what his message on the resurrection gave me was a defense against some of my doubts, and it actually answered a lot of the questions I had about my faith.  Not all of them – but a good number of them.  And I think, frankly, this is one of the most important messages that perhaps has ever been given to the church.

Bob: It's a classic message and, in fact, throughout the '60s and the '70s, Josh would go from college campus to college campus sharing the evidences for the resurrection, presenting a compelling case for the reality of the resurrection.  And we need to say nobody ever gets argued into the kingdom of God.  You're not going to sit down with somebody and have a debate and, at the end of the debate, have them go, "Well, gee, I guess you're right.  I guess I need to become a Christian."  The only way somebody comes into the kingdom of God is because the Holy Spirit is at work in their life.  But in this situation, where Josh was going from college campus to college campus, God was pleased to have the Holy Spirit stirring a lot of people's lives, because a lot of people came to faith as a result of hearing a message like this.

Dennis: You know, this is going to sound kind of funny, but I'm going to go ahead and say it – God knew what He was doing when He left us evidence for the reality of the resurrection.  The resurrection is one of, if not the most important event in history other than the Incarnation.  If you can disprove that the resurrection occurred, then, in my opinion, you can completely dismantle Christianity and its message.

Bob: That's what the Apostle Paul said.  He said if the resurrection is not true, our faith is in vain, right?

Dennis: That's exactly right, and what made this message so revolutionary in the '60s, the '70s, and even the '80s, when Josh gave it on the college campus, is that there were not other voices, other ministers, who were defending the faith in an articulate, historically reliable way.  And God actually used Josh McDowell's own quest and journey as a skeptic and as a doubter to fortify his own faith and really a lot of his own research ended up being pushed into this message as he gave us a reasonable explanation for why you can count on the resurrection being true.

Bob: We talked about Josh doing this in the '60s and the '70s, we make it sound like he's a really old guy, you know?

Dennis: Well, Josh has got a few gray hairs today, Bob.

Bob: He does, but – and you were a college student.  He wasn't that much older than you when he was sharing this message.

Dennis: No, he really wasn't, but I'll tell you what, Josh is a good friend.  Over the years we have locked arms together here on FamilyLife Today and other ministry activities.  I love him and Dottie and their family appreciate him a great deal.  I think he's one of the most important spokesmen for the Christian faith in the last 100 years.  I admire him.  I think he's a hero and a model.  He's walked the talk; he's a good man, and I just appreciate him a great deal.

Bob: Well, let's listen together to part 1 of Josh McDowell's message – "Resurrection:  Hoax or History?"

Josh: Men and women, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either the greatest farce or the greatest fact.  It is either the greatest historical event, or it is the greatest historical hoax ever perpetuated upon mankind.  Jesus Christ had three basic credentials.  One was the impact of His life upon history through changed lives; another was the fulfillment of prophecy in His life; and another was the resurrection.  Over and over and over again, Jesus prognosticated that on the third day He would be raised from the dead.  He said, "The strongest temple and in three days I'll raise it up again," and they said, "This He spoke of His body."  He was going into Jerusalem.  His followers came to Him and said, "Hey, man, don't go in there, they'll kill you."  He said, "Guys, you don't understand.  He said I've got to go to Jerusalem, go through the Jerusalem 1 conspiracy trial.  I'm going to be beaten, I'm going to be crucified and buried, but on the third day, I'll be raised from the dead."

Even his enemies understood it.  The Jewish rabbis went over to the Roman leaders, and they said, "Look, when that deceiver was still alive He said in three days that grave would be empty.  We better make it secure, or the second deception will be greater than the first."  And you know, men and women, Jesus Christ placed a lot of emphasis on the resurrection.  See, a lot of people don't realize that everything that Jesus Christ taught, lived, and died for depended on one thing – an empty tomb and His appearances.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity stands or falls together.  You want to attempt to refute Christianity?  All you'd have to do is explain away the resurrection, and it would totally crumble.  You see, this is why if you want to refute Christianity, you have to deal with a fact within history.  You see, Christianity is diametrically opposite of almost all other religious faiths.  Almost all other religious faiths are based upon a philosophical proposition or a theological ideology – something you believe in or adhere to.  Christianity, however, is based upon the identity of its founder, Jesus Christ, and an event within history of the resurrection.  That's why in the university, if you want to attempt to refute Christianity, it's best to start in a history class not a philosophy class, even though it has tremendous philosophical overtones.

Now, I want to take a little different approach that many people take to this subject – a lot of it because of my legal background.  When I went to enroll in law school, my hero was Dr. Simon Greenleaf.  He and Dr. Storr [ph] were the two men that put Harvard Law School on the map.  He wrote the three famous volumes on the "Laws of Legal Evidence."  He was a skeptic, always mocking the Christians in his law classes at Harvard.  One day the Christians got a little tired of it, so they challenged Greenleaf to take his three volumes on the "Laws of Legal Evidence," and to apply it to the resurrection. 

After much persuasion, he did that.  In the process, he ended up becoming a Christian, and he went on to write a book about this thick, now printed by Baker Book House, and Greenleaf came to the conclusion the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best-established events of history according to the laws of legal evidence administered in the courts of justice. 

There were two men at Oxford – Lord Littleton and Benjamin Gilbert West.  They were fed up with the Christian faith.  They wanted to give the fatal blow to destroy it.  You know, I wish more people would set out to refute Christianity.  We'd have more Christians.  Plus, they'd know why they believe.  These men knew they had to refute two things – one, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul; second, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So Lord Littleton chose the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Benjamin Gilbert West chose the resurrection.  They took a leave of absence to go their own individual way to do their research and study.

When the two men returned, they were going to write a book together to refute the myth of Christianity.  Well, when they returned, they were a little sheepish to share their findings, because each one independently had come to the exact opposite conclusion of what they set out to prove and had become an ardent follower of Christ.  Well, they went on to write a book together called "Observations of the History and the Evidence for the Resurrection."  And Dr. West had something printed on the flyleaf that all of us ought to consider when he said this, "Reject not until you have examined the evidence."

There was a lawyer who wrote under the name of Dr. Frank Morrison.  He was brought up in a rationalistic background, and he thought the lifestyle of Jesus Christ was the most beautiful lifestyle ever lived.  But when he got to the resurrection, he thought somebody had come along and tacked on a myth, and that sort of bent him out of shape.  So he wanted to write a book to refute the myth of the resurrection.  He figured an intelligent, rational approach to history and the evidence would totally refute it.  He was so sincere in gathering his information to write his book to refute it, he took his own money and went to Palestine to do part of his research.  While he was over there he, too, committed his life to Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 10 of the "Evidence that Demands a Verdict," I list scores of other greats in their areas of discipline that set out to refute it and end up accepting it.  What did they find?  In the short time we have tonight, I would like to share with you some of the things that they found and some of the things that I discovered as I set out to make an intellectual joke of the resurrection.

Now, everything that I say is documented in one of my books or tapes.  Half of what I say will be taken from eyewitness accounts recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The other half will be taken totally from extra biblical, secular sources. 

Now, let us look at the precautions taken at the tomb.  You might call it the dead truth about the first Easter.  The first precaution is that it says the body of Christ was placed in a new tomb hewn out of a solid rock.  Now, the Jewish tombs had an entrance about 4.5 to 5 feet tall, inside there were places usually for three cadavers, one on the left, the front, and the right, often with the head protruding into the stone 8.5 to 11 inches.

The next precaution – John brings this out as well as others – that the body of Christ was prepared according to the burial customs of the Jew, and it says that more than 11 pounds of aromatic spices were used.  You say, "Just a minute, McDowell, that's a lot of spices, make a lot of tea."  Well, it would.  But 100 pounds wasn't any big deal for a great leader.  Gamaliel – Gamaliel was a contemporary of Jesus.  In fact, Saul of Tarsus studied under him.  He was the grandson of the great Jewish scholar, Hillel.  When Gamaliel died, they used 86 pounds of spices in his buriel.  One account says when Herod died, it took 500 servants to carry the spices.  So 100 pounds wasn't any big deal.

And what they'd do is this – they'd take the body, and they would place it on a slab of stone.  They would straighten all the members, they would take the aromatic spices and mix in with it a gummy or a cement consistency, and then they'd take a piece of linen cloth about 30 centimeters wide, 11 to 11.5 inches, and they would start to wrap the body from the feet.  In between the folds, they'd place the aromatic spices with a gummy consistency.  They would wrap to the armpits, put the arms down, start below the fingers, wrap to the neck, and the separate piece around the head.  In this situation, I would estimate an encasement of approximately 117 to 120 pounds. 

Next precaution – Matthew said a large stone was rolled against the entrance of the door.  Mark – and let me tell you, there's many extra biblical sources that confirm the accuracy of Mark.  Mark says the stone was extremely large.  Now, that phrase in the Greek, in the language of a university student, is sort of like, "Wow, get a load of that rock!"  Now, how large was an extremely large get-a-load-of-that-rock stone?  Well, in the Bassai Manuscripts, some of the oldest manuscripts that we have, in the Mark 16 portion, it says within the text, "the stone (that could not be moved by 20 men)."  Today you'd say 15 women – no –


 P.E. majors – now what's the significance of that?  Well, in the rules of transcribing a manuscript, if a transcriber is putting in his own thoughts or the thought of his day, he would make a marginal reference.  However, if he was copying a marginal reference of the original manuscript of the thought of that day, they would usually put it within the text but within parentheses, and this phrase – "a stone that cannot be moved by 20 men" – I believe had to come from a 1st century manuscript within a few years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

 After I lectured at Georgia Tech, two non-Christian engineering professors went on a tour of Israel with the university.  They had remembered what I'd said about the size of the stone.  So as engineers, when in Israel, they took the type of stone used in the time of Christ, calculated the size needed to roll against a 4.5 to 5-foot doorway.  They wrote me a letter with all the details and put it in simple English in the back and said it would have to have a minimum weight of one-and-a-half to two tons.  No wonder they said "an extremely large stone." 

 The next precaution – a guard unit was placed at the tomb.  You see, the Jews had a problem with Christians.  The Romans had a problem with Jews.  So they said, tell you what, we'll make it two against one.  So the Jewish leaders went over the Roman leaders, and they said, "Look, when that deceiver was still alive, he said in three days that grave would be empty.  We better make it secure, or we're going to have a political coup from the dead."  So Pilate said, "All right, a guard you have.  Go make it secure." 

 Now, some people reading through there will say all Pilate said was, "Look, you have your temple police.  Take your temple police and make it secure."  If you want to say that, it's okay.  But check out Chapter 10 of "Evidence," and see who the temple police were.  They were like Green Berets.  They were on guard in units of 10 people. They could not sit down, they could not lean against everything, their weight had to be distributed equally on both feet so they would be ready to fend anything at any moment.  In fact, if a guard fell asleep, the captain of the guard burned him with his own clothes after he was beaten.  Now, anywhere from four to 16 men were placed at the entrance of that tomb.

 Next precaution – Matthew says a seal was placed on the tomb.  A.T. Robertson, the Greek scholar, says the seal could only be placed on in the presence of the Roman guard – that the guard unit examined what they were to protect, and then they sealed it.  The seal was made up of two pieces of rawhide, four clay packs on the outside with a large clay pack in the center with the Roman insignia embedded in it.  Now, that seal stood for the power and the authority of the Roman Empire.

 Now, I think these precautions will suffice for the time we have tonight – a solid rock tomb; one entrance 4.5 to 5 feet tall; 100-and-some pound encasement around the body; 1.5 to 2-ton stone rolled against the entrance; a 16-man security unit placed there; and a Roman seal. 

 Now, ladies and gentlemen, don't have to have a lot of shots upstairs to realize something happened, something happened almost 2,000 years ago this world has not gotten over with yet.  Something happened that took 12 men, Jews, turned their lives upside down, and all but one of them died a martyr's death for one thing – an empty tomb and the appearances of a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth that they said for 40 days they walked with Him, ate with Him, and slept with Him with many convincing proofs, and that was a phrase used in the law courts of that day for overwhelming or compelling evidence.

 There was Thomas, Doubting Thomas, he said, "I won't believe unless I put my finger in his wounds," and he died a martyr's death.

Bob: Well, that is the unmistakable voice of Josh McDowell sharing evidence for the resurrection of Christ and just that last piece of evidence – Thomas says, "I won't believe unless I put my hands in His fingers and in His side," and, of course, the Bible goes on to say that that's exactly what Jesus invited him to do.  He said, "My Lord and my God," and he went on to die a martyr's death.  Now, if you're going to go to your death, are you going to go there because of a hoax, because you dreamed something?

Dennis: Because you believed a lie?

Bob: No.  You're going to there knowing that it's true because you saw it, you touched it, you were there.  You realized it.  That's pretty compelling evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

Dennis: It is.  The change in the disciples' lives is unmistakable.  I mean, before the resurrection they were whiners, doubters, traitors, deniers.  After the resurrection you see men who turned the world upside down and who ended up giving their lives for Jesus Christ, and they didn't die for a lie.  They died for the truth.  They saw Him, they beheld Him, they touched Him, and they experienced Him after the resurrection.  And, you know, it's this resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who makes this statement to you as a listener – "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life." 

 The resurrection is the story of how God paid the price for our sins and defeated death, the ultimate payment for our sins, and His redemption of our lives for eternity.  And, you know, when Jesus says to us, "He who believes in me can pass out of death into life," He is saying to you "Why continue to live life on the horizontal plane.  Why not look up, why not embrace the Creator, your Heavenly Father, who loved you enough that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish, should not die but have everlasting life." 

 The invitation to you right now as a listener, if you've never experienced His promise, is take Him at His word.  He is alive.  He is alive.  The tomb is empty.  They've never found the body.  He is alive, and He can make the offer to you today, "Believe in me.  You can pass out of death and into life and have a personal relationship with the Lord God Almighty through my personal provision for your sin."  But it's your commitment in faith that makes that relationship a reality.  The question is – will you choose it?  Will you believe?  Will you embrace Him?  Will you set Him apart as Lord and Master of your life?  And I just invite you to do that right now.  Don't let another minute, another hour, another day on the calendar pass without making the most important decision you'll ever make.

Bob: During this week the whole world really stops to consider that question of the resurrection – did Jesus actually rise from the dead?  The celebration of Easter by Christians is something that captures the attention of the whole word.  And if it has caught your attention, if you want to respond to God's invitation, we want to send you a book that can help you do that.  It's a book called "Pursuing God," and it's our gift to you.  We'll send it to you at no cost and with no obligation as a way for you to consider the claims of Christ, the claims that God makes in the Scripture, and to consider what your response to those claims ought to be.

 Ask about the book, "Pursuing God," when you call us and request a copy – 1-800-FLTODAY is the number.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and then I think every Christian ought to have an archive copy of Josh McDowell's message on the resurrection.  You ought to have one in your library, one you can loan out to people.  We have it available on CD, and if you'd like to get a copy, contact us.  Go to our website at or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY. 

 In fact, we've got copies of Josh's book, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict."  This is one of the first books I got when I became a Christian, and it was helpful to see that the claims of the Bible are supported in history, are supported by science, that there is, in fact, evidence for our faith.  If you'd like more information about that book, you'll find it online at or, again, give us a call at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 We want to add a quick word of thanks to those of you who partner with us in making this radio program possible.  Those of you who provide the financial support through contributions to our ministry, you help keep us on the air on this station and on stations all across the country, and we really do see you as partners in this endeavor. We thank you for your financial support, and we want to let those of you who have never made a donation to FamilyLife Today know that you can donate online, if you'd like, at or you can call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  We appreciate you, and we hope to hear from you.

 Tomorrow we're going to be back with part 2 of Josh McDowell's classic message on the evidence for the resurrection.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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