Five Reasons to Doubt the Resurrection

“And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” – Matthew 28:15


How do you know it’s not just happening in your head?

As someone who grew up in an environment where people claimed to hear from God on a regular basis, this was one of the first big questions I had to face. I knew the Mormons had the “burning in the bosom” to confirm their faith, and I had enough self-awareness to know that, given the right circumstances, I could easily fool myself into mistaking my thoughts and dreams for God’s thoughts and dreams. What distinguished my personal experience from confirmation bias and wish fulfillment? What made Christianity different from any other religion?

For many years I found my answer in the empty tomb of Jesus. The resurrection was the epistemic foundation of my faith, the rock upon which everything else could stand. Even after I started to see cracks in everything else, the resurrection was the one thing I could point to and say, “See, it’s not just happening in my head.” That is, until I began to look deeper into the evidence.

I started seriously looking into the case for the resurrection in 2009. At the time I was strongly primed to agree with the verdict of evangelical scholars like Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, and N. T. Wright. Carefully reading through Wright’s 700-page volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God, I fully expected to find his thesis confirmed, that “the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again, and… the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.”[1] After finishing the book and following many of the citations, however, I found that I had more questions than answers; and, far from being extinguished, those questions only grew stronger as I poured over Mike Licona’s equally massive work a few years later.

Perhaps it was because of my experience with ecstatic end-time movements, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that scholars like Wright and Licona weren’t taking some of the alternatives as seriously as they should. As much as I wanted to agree with their confident conclusions, it seemed quite easy for me to imagine a completely natural explanation for the birth of Christianity that could account for all the so-called “minimal facts”. Instead of finding that “anyone who examines the evidence fairly will inevitably come to the conclusion that the resurrection happened,”[2] I found that the evidence itself gave me numerous reasons to be skeptical. The more I tried to shore up my faith with the help of history, the more brittle it became—until I no longer felt like I could call myself a Christian.

There are many reasons to doubt Christianity’s central claim, but these are the five historical problems that most disturbed me when I was trying to shore up my faith. I have yet to see a good explanation for any of these from within the ranks of believing scholarship, but I remain open.

I. The nature of Paul’s conversion experience

Even though Paul wasn’t there at the beginning, he is our most important witness to the resurrection, because he provides the only incontestable firsthand eyewitness testimony to an appearance of the risen Jesus we have. That in itself is astounding—and seldom appreciated by apologists—but an even bigger problem arises from the way Paul describes his experience.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul says Christ appeared to him after the resurrection just like he appeared to Peter, James, and the other apostles. He seems to distinguish this experience from subsequent visionary experiences by the phrase “last of all”—a phrase which, when taken together with 1 Corinthians 9:1, suggests that Paul believed he had truly seen the risen Jesus, not in a symbolic sense as in the visions of Daniel or Revelation, but in a normal, this-worldly sense just like you can see any living person.[3]

According to Acts 26:19, however, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was in fact a “heavenly vision”—a vision which, according to Acts 9:7, Paul’s traveling companions could not see. The usual apologetic response is to say that Paul’s word must take priority over Luke’s word here, since 1 Corinthians is earlier than Acts and Paul is the one who had the experience in the first place.[4] And yet even Paul himself, when recounting his conversion experience elsewhere, seems to use language more appropriate to a vision than to a physical appearance (Gal. 1:12, 16; cf., Gal. 2:2; 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; 2 Cor. 12:1, 7).

In Galatians 1 he describes his experience as “a revelation of Jesus Christ,” using the same language he uses throughout his letters to describe non-bodily visions. The Greek word for “revelation” there is apocalypsis. It’s the same word he uses in 2 Corinthians 12 to describe his experience of being caught up to the “third heaven,” and in that case he says he doesn’t know whether it was “in the body or out of the body”. And in Galatians 1:16 he says that this revelation took place “in him”—not “to him”, but “in him”.

In other words, we have very little reason for thinking that Paul’s experience was a physical appearance of the risen Jesus like the ones described at the end of Matthew, Luke, and John. Paul places his experience on par with the experiences of the other apostles, but the only depictions we have of his experience are completely different, and—let’s face it—much less compelling than the ones we find about the other apostles in the Gospels.[5]

As soon as we pull at this thread, however, it threatens to unravel the whole cloth. For as D. F. Strauss observed long ago, if the fundamental nature of Paul’s experience is called into question, the fundamental nature of the other “appearances” Paul mentions are called into question with it.[6] Especially given that 1 Corinthians 15 is the earliest text recounting these traditions, and that Paul’s experience is the only incontestable firsthand eyewitness testimony we have, what basis is there for thinking that the experiences of the other apostles weren’t similar in character to Paul’s?

Of course, anyone familiar with the Gospels might retort that there is a quite obvious basis for thinking that the experiences of the other apostles weren’t similar in character to Paul’s, namely that they not only saw Jesus but also touched him and ate with him (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:38-43; Jn 20:27; 21:9-13). There are, however, several reasons for doubting these traditions, as we will see below.

II. Discord between the accounts

Reading the different accounts of Jesus’ ministry, death, and burial in each Gospel side by side, we can see a significant degree of overlap between the accounts. In each account of Jesus’s final night, for example, we learn that Judas betrayed him, that Peter denied him, that the Jewish leadership condemned him, that Pilate delivered him over to be flogged and crucified, and that he died on a cross between two other men with the inscription “King of the Jews” above his head. Details differ, but the gist is the same.

Turning the page to the resurrection narratives, however, we are confronted by a staggering lack of agreement. There are no appearances in Mark, just the mysterious expectation of a meeting in Galilee (Mk 14:28; 16:7). Only Matthew tells of an appearance to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Mt 28:16-17). Only Luke tells of an appearance to a pair of disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-31), and he is the only one who narrates the ascension (Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9). Only John tells of the appearances to Thomas and the seven disciples by the Lake of Galilee (Jn 20:24-29; 21:1-22). In none of the Gospels do we see an appearance to James or the “more than five hundred brothers” mentioned by Paul (1 Cor 15:6-7). And of all the things the risen Jesus is reported to have said, only one stock phrase—“Peace be with you”—is recorded by more than one Gospel writer (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19). How could memories diverge so widely on something as unforgettable as the words of the Messiah from beyond the grave?

And the problem isn’t just the lack of corroboration between the accounts; it’s the numerous irreconcilable conflicts between them. At the end of Mark the women flee from the tomb and “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” yet in Matthew they depart from the tomb “with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (Mk 16:8; Mt 28:8). Mark’s Jesus tells the disciples that he will meet them in Galilee, and he does so in Matthew, but Luke’s Jesus appears only in or around Jerusalem, and he actually tells the disciples not to leave the city (Mk 14:28; 16:7; Mt 28:16-17; Lk 24:6-7, 49). In Luke, moreover, all the appearances take place on Easter day, while in Acts they take place over a forty day period! What are we to make of such a mess?

John Dominic Crossan puts the problem starkly:

“Even a reader totally innocent of questions about source or genre notices a drastic change in moving from the passion and burial stories to the resurrection and apparition ones. More specifically, it is very simple to compose a single harmonized version of the former narratives up to the finding of the empty tomb but flatly impossible to compose one for the latter traditions. If all those accounts derived from composite memory and historical recall, it is quite remarkable that an almost hour-by-hour remembrance prevailed for the death and burial of Jesus but an almost total discrepancy prevailed for what was, I would presume, even more important, namely, the extraordinary return of Jesus from beyond the grave to give the disciples their missionary mandate and apostolic commission.”[7]

III. Signs of legendary development

Christian apologists often claim that the Gospels cannot contain significant legendary accretions because they were written within a generation of the events they ostensibly record, while legends generally take centuries to develop.[8] Given the nature of the evidence we have, however, there is good reason for wondering whether this claim itself is an apologetically motivated myth.

To illustrate why, consider the resurrection narrative in one of the non-canonical sources, the Gospel of Peter, which most scholars (both liberal and conservative alike) date to the early or mid second century.

According to the Gospel of Peter, at the time of Jesus’ resurrection the tomb was being watched, not just by a couple guards as in Matthew, but by a whole troop of soldiers, a centurion named Petronius, the Jewish scribes and elders, and (just for good measure) by a “multitude from Jerusalem and the region round about” (31-33). All together this crowd witnessed “three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them: and of the two the head reached unto the heaven, but the head of him that was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, ‘Hast thou preached to them that sleep?’ And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yea’” (39-42).

Whatever their conclusions about the canonical Gospels, most scholars wouldn’t hesitate to say that Peter’s resurrection narrative is chock-full of legendary accretions, accretions that rest on but go far beyond earlier traditions (e.g. Matthew’s guards, Luke’s two angels). So whatever generalizations might be made about how long it usually takes for legends to develop, the Gospel of Peter (and the same point could be made from other non-canonical writings from around the same time) gives us a specific example that is directly relevant to the subject at hand.

And here’s the problem: Peter was written only a few decades after John. It stands, in fact, at relatively the same distance in time from John (the latest canonical Gospel) that Mark (the earliest canonical Gospel) stands from Jesus himself. So if we are in agreement that Peter’s resurrection narrative is largely legendary, by what rationale of dating can we still insist that the canonical Gospels must be categorically different?

The plain and simple fact of the matter, established by a close reading of each Gospel side by side, is that the canonical Gospels clearly do contain numerous examples of legendary development. Even Mike Licona, a conservative Baptist scholar, tacitly admits this, citing the angel(s) at the tomb and the resurrection of the saints in Matt. 27:52-53 as possible examples of what he (euphemistically?) calls “a literary device” on the part of the Gospel writers, which they employ to drive home “their belief that a divine activity had occurred.”[9]

But what Licona and others like him fail to do, despite all their best efforts, is to show how these “literary devices” are not part of a larger trend of legendary development. If the Gospel of Peter can turn Matthew’s two guards into a hundred, then why can’t Matthew (or Matthew’s source) be just as creative? Why can’t the two guards be another example of the elasticity of ancient biographical standards, showing Matthew’s belief that a divine activity had occurred? Given the lack of independent corroboration for that detail, and the clear apologetic value it holds for Matthew’s narrative, there is good reason for thinking that it too is probably legendary.[10]

But then the floodgate is opened and it can’t be shut. If we can attribute the bodies of the saints coming out of their tombs and appearing to many in Jerusalem to Matthew’s creative license, then why can’t we do that with any of Jesus’ appearances? John’s story of Jesus’ appearance by the Lake of Galilee (Jn. 21:1-17) bears so much similarity to Luke’s story of Peter’s first encounter with Jesus (Lk. 5:1-11) that it becomes quite sensible to ask whether one of the authors moved the story to a different setting for their own literary purposes, or even if this might be the result of memory-conjunction error, the combining of two separate memories to create one hybrid memory. And what about the anachronistic content of Jesus’ final words in Matthew?[11] Or the 40 days of Acts? Or the ascension narrative? And on and on the questions come.

And aside from the suspiciousness of any one tradition, there is the more general observation that the scope of post-resurrection material grows with each Gospel: Mark is the earliest, and he contains no actual record of any appearances, but only the expectation of one in Galilee (Mk 16:7); then comes Matthew, who spends 190 words on two appearances (Mt 28:9-20) and then Luke, who spends 641 words on three appearances (Lk 24:13-53); and finally John, who spends 930 words on four appearances (Jn 20:14-21:25).[12] And just as the scope of post-resurrection material grows with each Gospel, so also do the themes of physical proof (an obviously important apologetic motif) and the displacement of Galilee with Jerusalem (which had greater prophetic significance; e.g. Isa 59:20) as the primary theater of the risen Jesus’ activity. Is it just a cruel coincidence of history that so much material is distributed in such a manner as to suggest legendary development?

IV. Unrealistic features of the traditions

One of the more puzzling features of the resurrection narratives is how the appearances of the risen Jesus are all short-lived and sporadic: Jesus appears in the middle of a room, gives a brief word of comfort or exhortation, and then disappears just as quickly as he appeared (Lk 24:31, 36-37; Jn 20:19, 26). Equally puzzling is why the appearances should be constrained to the days immediately following the crucifixion with few to none at all occurring soon afterward.

Strange features like these underscore the stark difference in both the quality and the quantity of the descriptions of Jesus prior to his death and those after his death. Indeed, such features seem unrealistic and eerie for someone who is supposed to be physically resurrected. And yet, as Dale Allison has shown at length, they perfectly fit the phenomenon of bereavement hallucinations or visions of the recently deceased.[13] “Whether or not they are persuasive, the truth of the matter, welcome or not, is that the literature on visions of the dead is full of parallels to the stories we find in the Gospels.”[14] In other words, there is ample evidence to suggest that the experiences of the other apostles were in fact similar in character to Paul’s.

Regarding the risen Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear out of nowhere, Wright has argued that such things are best explained by what he calls the “transphysicality” of Jesus’s resurrected body.[15] To Wright, this explains why the NT writers talk about the resurrection in ways that cannot be explained against the background of Jewish thought. What Wright does not consider, however, is how often those same features are reported in visions of the recently deceased. To quote Allison once more,

“Modern experiences of apparitions often involve, on the phenomenological level, what might be termed ‘transphysicality’. As indicated on the previous pages, apparitions can be perceived as solid and can even sometimes be touched. And yet they also appear and disappear just like the Jesus of the Gospels and, if I may so put it, live outside of this world. So those who regard the encounters with the risen Jesus as related to visionary experiences will be astounded neither at the ‘transphysicality’ of the resurrected Jesus nor by Paul’s use of ‘spiritual body’.”[16]

And what about the high concentration of appearances early on followed by few or none at all soon afterward? To my knowledge, neither Wright nor any other proponent for the historicity of the resurrection has tried to explain why the risen Jesus should have stopped visiting his followers. And yet the literature on bereavement hallucinations shows us that “the number of recognized apparitions decreases rapidly in the few days after death, then more slowly, and after a year or more they become far less frequent and more sporadic.”[17] Indeed, “The cases reported to us tend to occur most frequently within a week of the death, and the number falls away as the length of time since the death increases.”[18]

V. Dissonance reduction strategies

Of course, the disciples would have experienced Jesus’ death as more than just the loss of a loved one. After all, they had hoped that he was the long-awaited deliverer of Israel (Mk 8:29; Lk 24:21; Jn 1:41; Acts 1:6) and he was crucified precisely because he encouraged that association (Mk 14:61-62; 15:2, 26). As far as they were concerned, then, his death would have been experienced both as the loss of a dear friend and as a crushing blow to their eschatological expectations.

Based on what we can tell from the sources, in other words, the situation of the disciples in the days after Jesus’ death was very similar to that of other apocalyptic movements after the failure of their eschatological expectations. Which invites the question: How do such groups typically respond in those situations? What usually happens when prophecy fails?

As it turns out, social psychologists and historians have been asking precisely this question for over half a century, and they haven’t come back empty-handed. In a 1999 survey of some of the most important studies on the social and psychological dynamics of failed prophecy, Jon R. Stone observes that “disappointed believers tend to adjust their predictions and beliefs both to fit such disconfirmations and to fit changing empirical conditions.”[19] Instead of completely abandoning their expectations, apocalyptic groups tend to “reconceptualize the prophecy in such a way that the element of ‘failure,’ particularly the failure of the Divine to perform as promised, is removed.”[20] The two primary ways they do this are (a) by reinterpreting the prophecy to better fit with reality through a process of “spiritualization” and/or partial fulfillment, and (b) by projecting the still-unfulfilled elements (usually the most important parts of the prophecy) into the future.[21]

One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the response of the Millerites to William Miller’s proclamation that Christ would return to the earth on October 22, 1844—a date commonly referred to as the Great Disappointment. Like the disciples, many of the Millerites gave up everything in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the kingdom. After the expected day came and went, however, many Millerites came to believe that the prediction had in fact come to pass, but that instead of Christ coming to the earth as they previously thought, October 22, 1844 marked his entering the inner sanctuary in heaven in preparation for his return to the earth.[22] These reinterpretations were accommodated by the creative exegesis of several biblical texts and bolstered by a series of visions reported by Ellen G. White—and they are now a central pillar of Seventh-Day Adventist theology.[23]

Also instructive are the responses of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the failure of their eschatological predictions in 1878, 1881, 1914, 1918, and 1925. Despite their initial disappointment, in all five of these instances the Witnesses discovered through a closer reading of Scripture that the predictions had, in fact, been partially fulfilled, or that significant developments related to the predictions had actually occurred on the dates in question. Unlike the original predictions, however, the “events” identified to substantiate this claim were of a heavenly (read: nonempirical) nature and therefore not open to falsification.[24] Thus, 1878 marked the time when the “nominal Christian Churches were cast off from God’s favor”; 1881 marked the point at which “death became a blessing” to the saints; 1914, the year WWI began, marked the “End of the Time of the Gentiles” (i.e. the Christian nations); 1918 marked the moment Christ “entered the temple for the purpose of judgment”; and 1925 marked the establishment of a “New Nation” with Christ as its head.[25] The unfulfilled portions of the original predictions were simply projected into the future.

What relevance do these examples of ex eventu rationalization have for the study of Christian origins? More, I think, than many apologists care to admit.[26] The parallels are striking, for instance, when we see the NT writers talk about the present experience of the kingdom in terms of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven, sending the Spirit, establishing the new covenant, and other largely nonempirical events, while leaving more concrete aspects of Jewish eschatological expectation (like the salvation of Israel, the general resurrection, and the restoration of creation) firmly in the future.[27] We see it again in the way they habitually reinterpret OT prophecies along these same lines, finding the most malleable parts fulfilled in the birth of the Christian movement while projecting the most substantial parts into the future.[28] We see it in the way Matthew and Luke spiritualize Jesus’ declaration that the high priest would “see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” by adding the phrase “from now on.”[29] And we see it in the ascension narratives of Luke-Acts, which provide a suspiciously easy answer for why the appearances of the risen Jesus eventually ceased.[30]

In other words, as much as defenders of the resurrection resist the implications of comparative research, the evidence strongly suggests that the early Christians engaged in the same adaptive strategies as other apocalyptic movements after the failure of their expectations. Faced with the dissonance between expectation and reality, they “adjusted their predictions and beliefs both to fit such disconfirmations and to fit changing empirical conditions.”


One of the most common tropes of evangelical Christianity is the idea that, if a person follows the evidence wherever it leads, it will invariably lead them to faith. Even in the typically more circumspect world of biblical scholarship, one regularly encounters leaps of rhetoric that send essentially the same message. Wright speaks, for example, of the “somewhat desperate attempts of many scholars over the past two hundred years” to find “an explanation which provides a sufficient condition for the rise of early Christian faith but which, by fitting into post-Enlightenment epistemological and ontological categories, or even simply mainstream pagan ones, causes no fluttering in the critical dovecotes.”[31] And despite all their best efforts, he says, “no such explanation has been found.”[32]

What should we say to such things? I can only speak for myself, of course, but the more I study the rise of early Christianity, the more I find this kind of rhetoric to be profoundly out of touch with reality. My doubts about the resurrection did not arise through a post-Enlightenment prejudice against miracles or the supernatural.[33] They came, rather, through a critical-historical reading of the biblical data. I hoped to find something public and solid, something I could see and touch, something that could take me beyond the epistemic ghettos of personal experience, tradition, and authority. Perhaps I haven’t followed the evidence far enough. But from where I stand now, for all the reasons given above, I seriously doubt it.


[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 8.

[2] Rice Broocks, Man, Myth, Messiah: Answering History’s Greatest Question (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 95. See also Mike Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 608: “The only legitimate reasons for rejecting the resurrection hypothesis are philosophical and theological in nature: if supernaturalism is false or a non-Christian religion is exclusively true. However, if one brackets the question of worldview, neither presupposing nor a priori excluding naturalism, and examines the data, the historical conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead follows.”

[3] Wright stresses repeatedly that “the ancient world as well as the modem knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the ‘real’ world” (The Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003], 690).

[4] See, e.g., Ibid., 393. Note, however, Wright’s suggestion that Paul’s vision was actually induced by his meditating on the throne-chariot vision of Ezekiel 1 (Ibid., 397; Paul: A Biography [New York, NY: HarperOne, 2018], 47-53).

[5] Indeed, it’s a small step from here to the speculative suggestions of Freud, Lüdemann, and others that Paul’s experience was produced by his own subconscious. For a less speculative (but still suggestive) treatment of the psychology of Paul’s conversion experience, see J. G. Gager, “Some Notes on Paul’s Conversion,” New Test. Stud. vol. 27, pp. 697-704.

[6] David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1902), 740-741.

[7] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1993), 395.

[8] See, e.g., Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation into the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 32-33; Justin Brierley, Unbelievable?: Why, after ten years of talking with atheists, I’m still a Christian (London: SPCK, 2017), 137.  

[9] Mike Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 597; 185-86.

[10] See, e.g., the arguments of Peter Annet, The Resurrection in Answer to the Tryal of the Witnesses (London: M. Cooper, 1744), which Dale C. Allison regards as “still mostly convincing” (Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and its Interpreters [New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2005], 311).

[11] If Acts and Paul are any indication, the biggest controversy in the early church was over the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan (e.g. Acts 10; 15; Rom 3-4). To have the risen Jesus say things like “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) and “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) would therefore be extremely pertinent to those later controversies, building a suspiciously convenient bridge from the Judeo-centric focus of Jesus’ career to the multiethnic Sitz im Leben of the early church (cf. Mk 7:27; Mt 10:5-6).

[12] To be clear, I am not arguing for a direct literary dependence of each Gospel on the one before it, but simply for the development of legendary material across several decades, captured at various stages and in various contexts by the Gospels written throughout those decades.

[13] Resurrecting Jesus, 269-299.

[14] Ibid., 270.

[15] RSG, 608-15.

[16] Resurrecting Jesus, 293.

[17] William F. Barrett, On the Threshold of the Unseen (New York: E Dutton, 1917), 144.

[18] Celia Green and Charles McCreery, Apparitions (London: Edith Hamilton, 1975), 188.

[19] Jon R. Stone, Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy (New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), 13.

[20] J. Gordon Melton, “Spiritualization and Reaffirmation: What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails,” in Expecting Armageddon, 149.

[21] See the comments of Stone, Zygmunt, and Melton in Expecting Armageddon, 13-18, 71-73, 100, 149.

[22] Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, DC, 1954), 881.

[23] J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement: Its Rise and Progress (Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 1905), 185-97.

[24] Joseph F. Zygmunt, “Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity: The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” in Expecting Armageddon, 72.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Wright strongly resists comparing the early Christians to groups like the Millerites, but his rationale is puzzling. “The real problem,” he says, “is something that any first-century historian should recognize: that whatever it was that the early Christians were expecting, wanting, hoping and praying for, this was not what they said, after Easter, had happened” (RSG 699). I agree. And this is exactly what we should expect if they reconceptualized their previous expectations to better fit with reality, as the Millerites and Witnesses did.

[27] See, e.g., Allison, The End of the Ages has Come: An Early interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 147-52.

[28] See, e.g., the way Jer 31 is handled in 2 Cor 3 and Heb 8, or the way Joel 2 is handled in Acts 2, or the way Amos 9 is handled in Acts 15.

[29] Compare Mk 14:61-62, Mt 26:63-64, and Lk 22:67-69. For a general discussion of Jesus’s eschatological predictions and their subsequent reinterpretation, see my debate with Andrew Perriman on the Unbelievable? radio show and podcast with Justin Brierley.

[30] Wright seems to admit the ad hoc nature of the ascension in RSG 654-55.

[31] RSG, 706.

[32] Ibid., 707. Wright continues on the same page: “Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and to enter into a fantasy world of our own, a new cognitive dissonance in which the relentless modernist, desperately worried that the post-Enlightenment worldview seems in imminent danger of collapse, devises strategies for shoring it up nevertheless.”

[33] I still think Hume’s argument against miracles is deeply flawed.