Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“[Christianity made life in the first few centuries] a lot more bearable. The Church didn’t clean up the streets. Christians didn’t put in sewers. So you still had to live with a trench running down the middle of the road, in which you could find dead bodies decomposing. But what Christians did was take care of each other. Their apartments were as smoky as the pagan apartments, since neither had chimneys, and they were cold and wet and they stank. But Christians loved one another, and when they got sick they took care of each other. Someone brought you soup. You can do an enormous amount to relieve those miseries if you look after each other.
Christian women had tremendous advantages compared to the woman next door, who was like them in every way except that she was a pagan. First, when did you get married? Most pagan girls were married off around age 11, before puberty, and they had nothing to say about it, and they got married to some 35-year-old guy. Christian women had plenty of say in the matter and tended to marry around age 18. Abortion was a huge killer of women in this period, but Christian women were spared that. And infanticide—pagans killed little girls left and right. We’ve unearthed sewers clogged with the bones of newborn girls. But Christians prohibited this. Consequently, the sex ratio changed and Christians didn’t have the enormous shortage of women that plagued the rest of the empire.”
- Sociologist Rodney Stark, discussing the attributes of the early church.
Historical research shows with definite clarity that Jesus was not raised from the dead.… For two thousand years an abiding faith in Jesus’ resurrection has displayed enormous power, but because of its utter groundlessness we must now acknowledge that it has all along been a worldwide historical hoax
– Gerd Ludemann, Atheist Bible Scholar
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead – what explains the spread of Christianity throughout the known world? How was this done by the bumblers we read about in the Gospels? Where did their change come from? What was their inspiration? If the only thing that comforted them in their grief over losing their master was that they had some sort of psychological/imagined vision of Him, how could that possibly explain the POWER that they had to bring upheaval to the entire world!? The impact of these people was so strong that they were known as world-disruptors by their enemies! (Witness Acts 17:6-7, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!”)
The earliest followers of Jesus would not have been merely convinced to live their lives in such a manner by a hoax, by a vision, or even by the mythical expansion of the Jesus narrative. None of those things adequately explain the power by which they testified about Jesus, and the lives of sacrifice, love, and care that they lived day in and day out. Remember that the early church was not just some hippie commune made up of college students that grew up and got regular jobs when they were older. They were not CUGs – Christians until Graduation – The church persisted, lovingly caring for each other, and the pagan world, and powerfully teaching about Jesus. You might deny the miracles that were recorded by Luke, and others, during the spread of the gospel. (I don’t) but one cannot deny the sociological impact of a group of Jesus followers that were somehow empowered to love and serve and sacrifice in a different way altogether than adherents of any other religion or philosophy. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, and His Holy Spirit empowering these Christians, how might one explain the rapid spread of the Gospel and the way that the early church lived their lives?
Lots of Elvis followers (You can insert others like Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., etc.) believe he is still alive, so why aren’t they changing the world? Simple belief that a dead person is not dead is not a sufficient propellant for world-changing exploits. Recall that there were dozens of Jewish Messiah claimants other than Jesus, some are even mentioned in the Bible. During their lifetime hundreds, if not thousands of people followed them zealously. After their death, however, their followers disbanded and dispersed in every case, with the singular exception of the followers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…whose group grew exponentially AFTER the death of its founder. This dynamic is quite difficult for a secular historia or skeptic to explain.
Here is Dionysius, one of the leaders of the church in the third century, explaining how Christians cared for each other during natural disasters:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred or death to themselves and died in their stead…. the best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that their death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.
They heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease they push the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spreading contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might they found it difficult to escape.”
Alternative explanations for the miraculous power shown by the early church AND the miraculous love shown by the early church fail to adequately account for the growth and expansion of Christianity in the first three centuries. The Gospel of Jesus leaped over cultural and language barriers, and engaged three entire continents of people representing hundreds of languages, cultures, and belief-systems. In the quote presented at the beginning of the chapter, Dr. Ludemann arrogantly contends that historical research has clearly shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead. This is an utter falsehood, as historical research has done no such thing. I do find it interesting, however, that even the atheistic Dr. Ludemann grants that the early church was propelled forward by an “enormous power,” though he never specifies what that power might be, beyond psychological delusion. I propose a risen savior as a superior answer and the most likely and most fitting explanation and answer to the question: ‘What power propelled the early church? (FULL CHAPTER)
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, ©1996)
 Denise Janssen, Educating for Redemptive Community: Essays in Honor of Jack Seymour and Margaret Ann Crain (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 13
 Lüdemann (2004), 190; cf. 209; (1995), 135.
(Note: This is a partial preview of my book, you can continue reading FREE on Amazon via Kindle Unlimited, or you can purchase the book for a few pennies, OR you can find a friend reading it and take it when he isn’t looking!)
Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)