THE IRREFUTABLE CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION: How David K. Clark’s Risible “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ” (Free Inquiry, April/May 2014) Strengthens the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

©2014, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.




Attempts to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ date back all the way to the very day of the resurrection itself, when the tomb guards who reported this event to the chief priests were told to “‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept”’” (Matthew 28:13).  This is not surprising, inasmuch as the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non of Christianity; if Jesus rose bodily from the dead then He is indeed all that He claimed to be, and we must bow the knee to Him and acknowledge Him as Lord.  Those who do not wish to do so must, therefore, discredit the accounts of the Resurrection.1

That first attempt to do so was patently absurd, and it would have been great fun to watch it in operation:

Tomb guard:         “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.”

Thinking Person:  “Yeah?  If you were sleeping, how do you know what happened?  How can you know what happened while you were sleeping?  Hello-o!”

In subsequent centuries, and particularly with the rise of liberal scholarship in the 17th century, many more attempts have been made, which run the gamut from those with a patina of plausibility2to those that are utterly ridiculous.3 Whether initially plausible or ridiculous, however, every such attempt has been thoroughly debunked,4and it is rare to find a new and original attack on the historicity of the resurrection.

David K. Clark, a philosophy teacher at the University of Montana, thinks he has one.  In his article entitled “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ,” published in Free Inquiry5, he confidently asserts that “we can know that Jesus was not the resurrected Son of God.”  Moreover, he promises to prove this from the Gospel books themselves, claiming that “it is not difficult to establish – utilizing nothing more than the Gospels themselves – that Jesus was not resurrected.”

Clark has certainly given himself a tall task.  The evidence in favour of the resurrection is overwhelming and, as Clark himself acknowledges, “For those who have sought to oppose the authenticity of the resurrection, options have been appallingly few” and consist mainly of “decisively marginalized….desperate attacks.”6We have, inter alia, the four Gospel books, which are four eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ death and His subsequent post-resurrection appearances;7 we have Jesus’ followers publicly proclaiming His resurrection within weeks of His crucifixion (which was never done for any other of the many claimants to the title of Jewish Messiah) by and to people in a position to know whether these claims were true; we have these people preaching and believing the resurrection even at the cost of persecution and in many cases death; and we have the eyewitness challenge issued by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 implicitly inviting people to verify his preaching about the resurrection by checking with at least two hundred and fifty living eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus.8

Nevertheless, Clark insists not only that he can disprove the resurrection, but that he can do so from the Gospel books themselves.  Although these books explicitly teach that Jesus rose from the dead and was subsequently seen by eyewitnesses9, Clark curiously asserts that “these very writings serve instead to reveal the exact opposite.”  He continues: “it is astounding to realize that it is the Gospels themselves that shatter the very cornerstone of faith for which they stand guard.”  And just in case the reader has still missed this point, Clark says again, “we will see that the fatal weakness of the Gospel message lies at the very heart of the passion narrative itself.  The Gospels themselves provide the means of exposing the deception that lurks within them.”  Bold claims, indeed, and we wait with bated breath for Clark to set about backing them up.

Clark obviously believes he can do so.  In fact, he thinks that the new and “completely independent” super argument he will offer is so ironclad that any “final salvo…from those who would seek to restore the Gospel accounts of a literal resurrection as if straight from the annals of history… cannot succeed…no success will be forthcoming from appeals to history.”  Naturally, we shall reserve judgment on that until we examine his super new argument.  Here it is:

     There was no audience gathered at the tomb to see the resurrection of Jesus.

This is Clark’s super argument.  He explains it thus: “In order to conduct our evaluation, we need only to entertain exactly one question: At the time Jesus was to rise up from the dead, exactly where was everyone?….Where were the Pharisees, the Romans, and all of those whose futures were thought to be at stake in the outcome?”  Clark argues that “it is obvious that the prospect of such an event would raise the excitement level off the charts,” but no one was there, waiting at the tomb, for Jesus to rise from the dead.  “Why?” asks Clark, and he insists that “The answer is that the very idea of the resurrection of Jesus had not occurred to anyone.  No one, absolutely no one, anticipated any such event.  Otherwise, [they] would have been there.”  From this, Clark concludes that “the claim that Jesus was going to be resurrected was simply not a part of his teaching.  If it had been, Resurrection Day would have been well attended.”

This, then, is Clark’s “stunning surprise,” his “blockbuster result.”  This is what Clark presents as proof that “the basic account of the resurrection itself [does not] rise to any acceptable level of credibility.”  To summarize his super argument, he says, “The very notion of the heralded Resurrection Day without the requisite audience is silly!”

Clark believes that “the conclusion is, really, so painfully obvious” and wonders, “How could anyone, indeed, everyone, miss this?”  It does not seem to occur to him that perhaps no one has actually missed this fact but instead no one considers it to be a telling argument – or, indeed, any argument at all.  Even if we should expect an audience at the tomb, it seems absurd to think that the lack of one could overturn the copious evidence for the resurrection that we have already listed.  However, it is not necessary to debate this, for Clark’s super argument simply does not stand up to scrutiny, as a careful examination will show.  Let us proceed to do that.

Clark’s contention that there should have been a sizeable audience gathered at the tomb awaiting Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally depends upon the following points being true:

  • – That many people knew about Jesus’ promised resurrection on the third day
  • – That these people believed that He would rise from the dead
  • – That the people who believed this would have gathered at the tomb

Each of these three points depends upon the previous one(s), and if any one of them is wrong then Clark’s super argument collapses.  In fact, each one is wrong, as we shall see.

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[1] The fact that this is a spiritual battle in which a reluctance to acknowledge God rules over evidence is clearly seen here.  The men who mocked Jesus days ago, promising to believe in Him if He was able to save Himself, are now confronted by the fact that He did indeed save Himself and proved His claims in the very way they had asked, but rather than admitting they were wrong and turning to Him in faith, they bought and paid for a lie.  Whether or not that lie could fool others, they themselves obviously knew it was a lie, since they bought and paid for it.  Yet they preferred to hold on to the lie rather than the truth.

[2] Such as the “Swoon Theory” viz. that Jesus hadn’t actually died on the cross and later revived inside the tomb.

[3] Such as the “Hot Tomb Theory” viz. that the tomb was so hot that the body of Jesus vapourized and so His disciples thought that He had risen.

[4] See Casey, D. “The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the Testimony of God in Our Days” on this website at See also, inter alia, Habermas, Gary R. and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004.

[5] Clark, David K. “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ.” Free Inquiry 34(3), April/May 2014, pp. 17-23. All quotations from Clark in my article are from this source.

[6] It is not clear whether Clark considers the assertions made by John Dominic Crossan, which Clark mentions here (viz. that Jesus “was surely routinely burned along with the rotting piles of other corpses that had met the same fate.  No burial; hence, no resurrection.”), to be a valid argument against the resurrection.  Whether he does so or not, Crossan’s assertions are risible.  See the appendix at the end of this article.

[7] Matthew and John were eyewitnesses; Mark was recording Peter’s eyewitness testimony; and Luke tells us he had access to information from “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2).  And, yes, the Gospel According to Mark does document post-resurrection appearances of Jesus; see footnote 9, below.

[8]In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul mentions that the risen Jesus “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” Since “the greater part remain,” more than half of the five hundred were still alive, yielding at the most conservative estimate two hundred and fifty eyewitnesses living at the time Paul wrote this.  There could well have been close to five hundred of them.

[9]It is beyond the scope of this article, but it should be mentioned that, contra the charges of liberal scholars, Mark 16:9-20 is the authentic original ending of that Gospel book, penned by Mark himself.  See our forthcoming article and, inter alia, Pickering, Dr. Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text II (3rd Edition). Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, pp.159-168.

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2 Responses to THE IRREFUTABLE CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION: How David K. Clark’s Risible “Betting on Jesus: The Vanishing of the Christ” (Free Inquiry, April/May 2014) Strengthens the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

  1. An additional point in relation to why Jesus did not announce his resurrection to any but the disciples is that he never appeared after his resurrection to any but them. So it is consistent that he only foretold it clearly to them in private.

    • John Tors says:

      Actually, we do not know that Jesus only appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. James, His brother, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Acts 12:17, 15:13), though when last we see him in the Gospel books he is a mocker and an unbeliever (John 7:2-5). It is entirely possible that Jesus appeared to James (and perhaps to all His brothers) after His resurrection, and James became a convert. Of the “more than five hundred brethren” to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:6), any number may have been unbelievers until He appeared to them.

      This is an important point, because skeptics will cavil that Jesus conveniently appeared only to believers, so we must point out that we do not know that that was the case. He may have appeared to many unbelievers who became believers as a result, and He may have appeared to some unbelievers who remained unbelievers.

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