False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #5: Why the Legend Theory Comes Up Short

Some critics argue that the resurrection of Jesus resulted from an accumulating legend, a position known today as the Legend Theory. After Jesus died, the story of His “resurrection” was exaggerated from person to person. The historical accounts of the resurrection and the writings associated with it (the gospels) do not fit within the style of most myths. Kreeft writes, “There are no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events. Nothing is arbitrary. Everything fits in. Everything is meaningful. The hand of a Master is at work here.”

The Gospels are different from the style of traditional myths. Instead of wildly exaggerated, overblown, and piecemeal claims, Jesus’ disciples believed, and Christians today believe, that all of Scripture is interconnected and interdependent. The amount of seemingly irrelevant detail surrounding the historical accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection stands in opposition to the verbose style typical of myth. One such piece is found in John’s gospel. When confronted by the Pharisees with a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, Jesus was asked about a suitable punishment:

He stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

John 6:6-8, NKJV

Nothing more is said of this writing, and no detail is given of what was written. This detail of Jesus stooping to write in the dirt, although seemingly irrelevant, marks an eyewitness. The only explanation is that it happened. There was not enough time for a myth to develop. The Gospels were written within such a short time relative to the actual events that fabrication and elaboration would have been almost impossible due to the actual event’s eyewitnesses. Muller summarized this argument by saying:

One cannot imagine how such a series of legends could arise in an historical age, obtain universal respect, and supplant the historical recollection of the true character [Jesus]….if eyewitnesses were still at hand who could be questioned respecting the truth of the recorded marvels. Hence, legendary fiction, as it likes not the clear present time but prefers the mysterious gloom of gray antiquity, is wont to seek a remoteness of age, along with that of space, and to remove its boldest and most rare and wonderful creations into a very remote and unknown land (Muller 26).

Julius Muller, The Theory of Myths in Its Application to Gospel History Examined an Confuted

A significant detail in disproving the Legend Theory is that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. In first-century Judaism, women possessed no legal right to serve as witnesses. If the empty tomb were a created legend, its creators would not have allowed multiple women to make the discovery since a woman’s testimony in that day was considered worthless. On the other hand, if the writers were reporting what they saw, they would have to tell the truth, regardless of the societal norms.

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