Many women I have encountered over the years perceive the Christian faith as one that oppresses women. Some will not even consider Christianity as a reasonable religion to place their faith in because of this presupposition. Is this a fair assumption? These prejudices do exist, yet I will show that they stem from a historical or a cultural bias, and they are not correct biblical views on the role of women. Oppression of women is a misconception of what Jesus modeled and taught. Instead, a better understanding of what the Bible teaches is a liberating force for the female half of the Imago Dei. True biblical Christianity does not oppress women.
How did Christianity become a religion that many see as misogynist? Some of the church’s history played a role in this poor perception. Sadly, many of the Early Church Fathers of the Patristic Period (100 AD to approximately 600 AD) did not view women favorably. One reason for such a low view of women probably originated from the Early Church Fathers’ interpretation of The Fall, and specifically, Eve’s role within that narrative. For example, Tertullian likens all women to Eve, calling them “the devil’s gateway.” Based on his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:14, Tertullian saw the woman as the reason sin was released when she ate from the forbidden tree. To further illustrate the severe negative view Tertullian had of women, this is what he said in his treatise on the apparel of women:
God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. … you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert— that is, death— even the Son of God had to die.
Another prominent Church Father, Ambrose, the bishop of Milan from 374 to 397 A.D., wrote in his treatise On Paradise, that “though the man was created outside Paradise, an inferior place, he is found to be superior, while woman, though created in a better place, inside Paradise, is found inferior.” Ambrose believed it was a fact of nature that men are superior to women.
Augustine (354–430 AD), perhaps the most influential of the Church Fathers, also wrote negatively about women, furthering the unfavorable attitude which affected the developing church’s response towards women, especially in the ministry. In his Literal Commentary on Genesis, Augustine speculates as to how Adam, being already spiritual “in mind” could have been led astray. He concludes that this was one of the reasons “woman was given to man, woman who was of small intelligence and who perhaps still lives more in accordance with the promptings of the inferior flesh than by the superior reason…that through her the man became guilty of transgression.” Assuming woman’s natural inferiority, Augustine asks, “Is this why the apostle Paul does not attribute the image of God to her?” Contemporary feminists would be quick to point out that this statement is perhaps the worst form of misogyny: “inferring women were not created in the image of God.”
To set the record straight, this is not the correct interpretation of Scripture. The misunderstanding begins back in the Garden of Eden. The church’s predominant memory of Eve is at her worst possible moment, when she, a glorious creation placed in the Paradise of Eden to rule alongside Adam as his partner, swallowed the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 1:26). Tragically, to be Eve is to be one never forgiven. In a few terrible moments, Adam and Eve were lost. Kicked out of Eden, they were thus cursed due to the Fall—something that was done together, not apart (Gen. 3:6). Eve’s sentence was painful childbirth and a desire for her husband who would rule over her (Gen. 3:16). This was part of the curse and is the effect of sin. Considering that God is full of grace and mercy (Heb. 4:16), and is in the process of redeeming all of creation (Eph. 1:10), perhaps He was merely stating what He knew would occur as the consequence of sin.
Prior to the curse, Eve was created to be an image bearer of God alongside Adam (Gen. 1:27). She was to have children (Gen. 1:28), and finally, Eve was to rule the planet together with Adam as his ezer. This is the Hebrew word translated in English as helpmate. Ezer literally means “one who helps” or “the help of God.” It occurs twenty-one times in the Old Testament in places where God helps men against their enemies, as a warrior-like deliverer or shield of protection. This suggests possibly that God intended Eve to be warrior-like in helping Adam, not in the sense of being a soldier in today’s armed forces, but in a fierce determination to assist in the battle for God’s kingdom.
As an image bearer, it should not surprise us that ezer is used to describe Eve. Being created in the image of God includes these qualities: reason, morality, love, wisdom, spirituality, relationality, and creativity. As image bearers, humans are called to align themselves with their Creator, to share His heart of love, imitate His ways, and to join Him in the good works of His Kingdom purposes of redeeming all of creation. It is the highest honor that God calls men and women to partner with Him as His ambassadors on Earth. This is the original design before the corruption of sin destroyed the motivations of humanity. The overall meaning of ezer, however, should not be viewed negatively. Even Jesus came down to ‘help us’ become right with the Father, and to ‘help us’ learn how to be fully human. He also sent the Holy Spirit to ‘help us.’ In that case, everyone should strive to be helpers!
We are now called by Christ, who paid the price for our sin, to follow the narrow road to redeeming that which was lost—our true humanity. Thus, all people are called to know Him deeply, as “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28.) We are to reflect the character of Christ, being rooted in intimacy with God.
The Bible tells the story of the history of humanity and the relationship with our Creator. This history is fraught with human error and misperceptions, since we lost our true identities and became orphans. Through faith in Christ, however, we are adopted again into the family of God. He is in the process of redeeming everything and reversing the curse, but in the meantime, humans still make mistakes.
First Century on Women’s Attire
Many people today object that Paul’s instruction on covering women’s heads is oppressive. Sarah Ruden argues differently. She takes a unique approach to some of Paul’s more controversial words by setting some of his statements in context of what ancient Greek and Roman literature reveals about that culture. She recognizes a stark contrast between Paul’s writings and the exploitation and dehumanizing customs of the Roman empire in his era. Ruden contends that Paul’s main message centers on equality of all people before God, and the need to love one another in a Christ-like manner. For example, when Paul states that women in church should have their heads veiled, it is actually a “rule aimed at outrageous equality.” She states that head coverings in that time were seen as the flag of female virtue, status and security. For a Roman woman to veil herself was the equivalent of being married.
Ruden states, “In that culture, if a woman had committed adultery, she’d lose the right to wear a veil. Any woman who’d ever been a prostitute, the most common trade of unmarried women in those days, was not also allowed to wear a headdress.” So, by requiring all women to wear a headdress, Paul was asking the church to honor all women without distinction of beauty, wealth, respect or privilege.
Women’s Sexuality in Ancient Rome
Regarding Paul’s preference for celibacy, because of a modern western view of sexuality, some have interpreted Paul as holding a grim or negative view of erotic intimacy enjoyed in marriage (1 Cor. 7). Ruden thinks that Westerners assume that marriage was a ready option for Christians when, in fact, there was a traditional tyranny of arranged unions (some women being married off at extremely young ages), or else widespread prostitution, in which case, sexual exploitation was common.
Again, Ruden sees the language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7 as one of equality: “Paul, in a polytheistic world, was not only putting brand new limits on male desire, but licensing female desire, which had been under a regime of zero tolerance.”
Greco-Roman Treatment of Women
In the ancient Greco-Roman, infanticide was widely practiced, and especially targeted toward female infants. A study of inscriptions at Delphi made it possible to reconstruct six-hundred families. Of these, only six had raised more than one daughter. As would be expected, the bias against female infants showed up dramatically in the sex ratios of the imperial population. Due to the Didache, a first-century manual of Church teachings, Christian wives did not have abortions (nor did Jewish wives). This was an advantage for women, as many of these abortions were forced and unsanitary. The Christian faith thus allowed the female population to slowly increase.
Roman law also allowed arranged child marriages, usually to a far older man. Only a third of pagan girls married at eighteen or older, compared with half of Christian girls. Early on, Christianity was very attractive to women, who flocked to the faith, not only for these reasons, but because there was the option of remaining single and serving the church.
Historical Women’s Influence on the Church
Historically, women have had far more involvement in the church’s mission and other ministries than has generally been realized. Unfortunately, little is known of the influence of women due to scholars’ dismissal of early women’s roles in church history. Historians have often overlooked women because of inherited assumptions about what is considered important and what counts as serious history.
Thelca was a woman who held great influence early on in church history. She was a friend of Paul’s and upon hearing his preaching, refused to marry her fiancé, and decided on a life of celibacy and asceticism. This was unheard of in her day, and by doing so, she was viewed as counter-cultural and resistant to the pagan belief systems. She was eventually martyred for her faith, but she inspired countless Christians to live a life devoted to God.
Later, in the 2nd century, Perpetua and Felicitus were also martyred for the faith. St. Augustine mentioned these two women as embodying the Christian ideal of suffering and sacrifice of non-retaliation in the face of oppressive violence. Their story is heart-wrenching. They both had children and were sent to their deaths after handing over their newborns and infant children to caregivers. Both women were captivated by Christ, prizing him beyond family or even motherhood. These women challenged deeply embedded Roman familial virtues.
Throughout the Middle Ages, becoming a nun was an option for women who desired a life other than marriage. Monasteries were some of the only places where women were educated and allowed to publically express their grasp of the Christian faith. Matter of fact, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), was the first abbess of the Benedictine community, and was renowned for her remarkable set of writings on scientific, theological, and musical subjects, as well as for discerning correspondence with kings, bishops, and religious leaders of her day. Overall, women nuns contributed greatly to the expressive, contemplative, and mystical dimensions of the faith.
After the reformation, Susanna Wesley had a great influence on the modern church movement in America, and is known as the “Mother of Methodism.” She was, in essence, a female apologist of her time. She homeschooled all ten of her children in a ‘methodical way,’ and taught them faith in God against an “age of reason,” or the growing secular doctrines of the early 18th Century.  The influence of her upbringing had great impact on her two sons, John and Charles Wesley, who went on to begin the Methodist denomination, one with a rich musical tradition and vigorous missionary work.
Regarding missionary work, women’s work in missionary activities played a significant, and historically neglected, role. Recent scholarship for several historical periods indicates that the expansion of Christianity was the work of women as well as, or even more than, men. “Where the business of the church can be counted, women normally show up more often than men,” Marl Noll said.  He stated that a turning point in church history is the growing public awareness of women’s importance and influence for ordinary Christian activities.
Many people misperceive the Bible as teaching male superiority over women. Yet Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 12, of inclusion and a oneness of the functioning of the Body of Christ. Each person has a different function within the Body, and without that particular part, the Body would not operate as efficiently. Note the concept that all people are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights comes from the Enlightenment period, but was a thoroughly alien concept in the ancient world. An “all-in-one” concept was the basis of the Body of Christ in a new creation of unity as the Holy Temple of God: a relational concept. There is a larger concern here for a loving unity of God’s people in their differences. Equality, in the modern sense of the word, is not the primary goal.
“Equality speaks to one’s personal privileges and rights, whereas love describes one’s willingness to prioritize others,” Michelle Lee-Barnewall concludes. She states that Paul’s overriding concern is not the rights of the individual, but the glory of God as seen through the church. The focus is more towards a transcendent way of functioning as Christians for the “sake of the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23.)
Unlike the modern concept of equality between the sexes, the Christian faith is better understood, perhaps, as one of interdependence between male and female as the primary goal. We must remember Christianity is not an “American religion,” or even a concept of Western civilization. It was birthed in the Middle East and is not of this world. The truth of Christ transcends established social structures.
Jesus was inclusive of all to become disciples in a “surrogate family”, despite the criticism that He did not have any female disciples. Yes, Jesus’ closest, inner circle of disciples were men. This is understandable given the lack of credence a close woman disciple would have faced in that ancient society. However, Jesus did have women disciples in the outer circle. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are just a few mentioned in Mark 8:1-3. Later, after the resurrection event, Junia, a female believer, is mentioned as outstanding and well-known among the apostles (Romans 16:7).
“What is behind this way of seeing things – that women should be defined against men?” Eric Metaxas asks. He is right to point out that the reasons some prominent women made history is precisely from their being women in the first place. Men and women are not interchangeable. They have different things to do and were not created by God the exact same way for a purpose. We should, instead, celebrate differences, not suppress them or denigrate them.
All people, male or female, regardless of race, culture, or status, can receive forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ and inherit eternal life. This is true based on the Resurrection of Christ, the very foundation of the Christian faith. Recall that the Risen Lord first appeared to women, so He must have implicitly trusted them to deliver the pivotal message of the “Good News” to the other followers (Luke 24).The oppression of women in the church was not God’s intention... Click To Tweet
The oppression of women in the church was not God’s intention, but it stems from a misinterpretation of Scripture, rooted in biased historical and cultural influences. Instead, God’s plan is for men and women to work together in a blessed alliance, no one less valued than the other. This is what the church needs to embody, and this is what biblical Christianity teaches.
Brekus, Catherine. The Religious History of American Women. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Print.
Clark, Elizabeth A. Women in the Early Church, Message of the Fathers of the Church, vol. 13. Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983. Print.
Cohick, Lynn H. and Brown Hughes, Amy. Christian Women in the Patristic World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. Print.
James, Carolyn Custis. Lost Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.
Lee-Barnewall, Michelle. Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016. Print.
Metaxas, Eric, Seven Women: The Secret of Their Greatness. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016. Kindle edition.
Noll, Mark A. Turning Points. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.
Ruden, Sarah. Paul Among the People. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group, 2010. Print.
St. Ambrose, On Paradise. The University of Virginia, Humanities Institute of Advanced Technology. www2.iath.virginia.edu/anderson/commentaries/Amb.html#glossGen2:15. Accessed: November 27, 2017. Website.
Stark, Rodney. Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief.
New York, NY: Harper One, 2008. Print.
Sumner, Sarah. Men and Women in the Church. Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2003. Print.
Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women: Book 1, chapter 1. Christian Classics Electronic Library. www.tertullian.org. Accessed September 25, 2017. Website.
 The Latin term for the “Image of God.”
 Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women: Book 1, chapter 1 (Christian Classics Electronic Library, www.tertullian.org;), accessed September 25, 2017.
 Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women.
 St. Ambrose, On Paradise (The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, The University of Virginia, commentary file: www2.iath.virginia.edu/anderson/commentaries/Amb), accessed: November 27, 2017, 301.
 Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 29.
 Lexicon Strong’s H5828 ezer.
 James, Lost Women of the Bible, 36-37.
 James, Lost Women of the Bible, 32.
 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
 Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People (New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group, 2010), 87.
 Ibid, 85.
 Ibid, 86.
 Ruden, 97.
 Ibid, 98.
 Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, (New York, NY: Harper One, 2008), 320-321.
 Catherine Brekus, The Religious History of American Women (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 13.
 Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes, Christian Women in the Patristic World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 12.
 Ibid, 28.
 Ibid, 33.
 Mark A. Noll, Turning Points (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 90.
 Noll, Turning Points, 90.
 Ibid, 315.
 Eric Metaxas, Seven Women: The Secret of Their Greatness (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), kindle location 39.
 Noll, 315.
 Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 85.
 Ibid, 89.
 John 19:26-27.
 Metaxas, xix.
Another murderous attack against students at an American high school… too many of these horrific events have occurred in the past decade. As a parent of a high school teen, I wonder when will it come to our town? Everyone is asking. “Why is this happening?” The answer is not simple, but may I suggest to you it has a lot to do with our history.
History teaches us so much about who we are today, and after reading a history book on Western Civilization’s culture during the past 500 years, it’s evident that our society is on its way out. Let’s see how we’ve gotten to this point of decadence — an excessive indulgence and moral decay.
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses challenged the authority of the Catholic Church in the 1500s. This led to throwing off old church rules that oppressed, in favor of more power in the hands of the people. The printing press helped get these new thoughts on religion into the hands of the people, which spread the information much faster than Luther could have imagined. This led to many different sects of religious thought, splintering the once universal Church.
Now instead of a church-led society, the monarch took more authority and nationalism spread. Eventually, common man saw the monarchy as being too much like the Church in its overarching control. Kings didn’t have much of a desire to relate to their constituents, and lived luxurious lives while the regular folk were often impoverished. After some time, this contributed to the formation of democracies.
Establishing democracies in Western Civilization gave people a chance to pursue what they believed to be right, largely led by Puritans. The preference of the individual became highly valued. Some prized themselves over community. Instead of finding honor in contributing to the world around them, many sought after individual gain, not always considering the effect their actions may have on those around them. This played out in many ways.
In the mid 1600s, a shift was occurring from religion as the establisher of truth to science in the modern era. Critical of the church, rational thinkers used reasoning over the soul (heart).
These natural philosophers were beginning to discover that nature was regular or uniform, something testable and observable. They made great advances in mathematics and physics. They focused on the immediate, and tended to disregard the eternal. Scientism, or the belief that science would ultimately answer all questions, has now turned into a type of “new religion.”
This reduced life to parts, calculations, methods, criticisms, and experimentation. This is a form of abstraction, which in due course, pointed to lawlessness and meaninglessness. Truth was no longer static. There was no apparent eternal laws. If there is no meaning in life, and no apparent lawgiver, then to whom are we ultimately accountable?Truth was no longer static. Click To Tweet
When Darwin published his Origin of Species expanding the idea of Evolution there is no way he could have foreseen how this theory would be applied by some in “Social Darwinism.”
After World War I, a sense of lawlessness ensued and violence erupted in communities more frequently. Modernity, with all its promises to solve the world’s problems, failed. Science didn’t stop the senseless loss of life. Then World War II began. Atrocities never before committed to the extent Hitler did horrified people. Had the world gone mad?
Many began to accept the absurd. It was expressed in artwork in the 1900s through abstraction, and a loss of excellence. Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.” People began to celebrate the ordinary, mediocre and average.
Today there is a deep desire to abandon rules in personal lifestyles, as well. People want to be free to “love who they wish,” pleasure seeking is loudly applauded, and is profitable, for example, for companies producing pornography, as it is a multibillion dollar industry. The sex-slave trade is probably the worst example of a society gone decadent to the point of dehumanizing people as “objects.” There is a rise in violence, as prisons are at capacity. We’re spending ourselves silly as indebtedness (personal and governmental) is at an all-time high. We also have really bad examples of art. The latest being Lady Gaga’s recent concert where she had a someone vomit on her as an expression of so-called “art.” People seem bored with “life as usual,” and that’s why news and entertainment is often based on extremes: Extreme Home Makeover, Survivor, The Avengers (superheroes), Biggest Loser, etc.
It doesn’t take much insight to see that in Western Civilization, we’re headed in a very disturbing direction. There is an absence of hope, the proliferation of violence and perversion, unsustainable practices affecting limited resources, and no more adherence to a common moral objective. How can we survive this demise? We need to maintain a Biblical worldview despite the pressures around us, and offer hope through Jesus Christ to those who seek truth. With faith in God, hope lives.
It’s mainstream in our culture to hear people say things like “you have your truth, and I have mine,” or “there is no one right way, there are many.” This is relativism. On the surface, it sounds kind and tolerant, but if you dig deeper, you’ll discover that although this idea is broadly accepted, it’s almost completely unexamined. The idea that there is no moral objective truth is just plain foolish. Let’s examine relativism closer, and see where the truth ultimately lies.
Moral relativism is a point of view that teaches, when it comes to right or wrong, people do their own thing—there is no absolute or objective moral truth. This viewpoint is strongly held today, as it’s practically considered a moral imperative in its own right. If it’s a moral judgement that we should all respect another’s point of view, then it’s assumed any other point of view is immoral, or un-American.
This statement is self-refuting because saying there is no absolute truth is, in fact, making an absolute statement about truth. “The only place of true neutrality is silence. Speak up, give your opinion, state your view, and you forfeit your claim to neutrality,” states Gregory Koukl, founder and president of Stand to Reason.
At the heart of relativism is a desire to be more understanding in the hopes that we’ll all get along and be at peace, as long as you’re of that opinion. Relativists are intolerant of those who don’t agree with them. “People who hold that their religion is absolutely true are often strenuously opposed by the relativist. Only those adherents of various religions or philosophies who share the relativist’s perspective on reality that their religion or philosophy is no better than anyone else’s are truly welcome,” said Dr. Clay Jones, associate professor at Biola University. So relativists are actually hypocritical because relativists really only tolerate other relativists.
If you define morals based on what one individual perceives as good or bad, then if I come to visit and decide to take your iPad because that’s what is good for me, you can’t object. I need that tablet, and it’s my belief that I should take what I need. That doesn’t sound so good, does it? As you can see, relativism breaks down under scrutiny.
Philosopher Mortimer Adler adds “that reducing moral judgement to mere opinion, having no hold on any truth about what is right and wrong, we would be left exposed to the harsh doctrine that might makes right.”
This is why there are laws governing certain, commonly held objective morals: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie in court, etc. Where does the relativist stand on these issues? Would he say that it depends on if the person who harmed another saw it as his right? That is what the Al Qaeda terrorists believed when they flew planes into the Twin Towers. The world stood up and cried out for the injustices of that act because deep within, most people knew taking those innocent lives was wrong. It’s stamped into any normal, healthy conscience. Anyone who believes otherwise has lost their moral compass.
This shows there are objective morals, despite what the relativist may decry. Where did those truths come from? Jeremiah 31:33 says “…I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” In the Bible, God states that He is the law giver, and what some term your “conscience” would be that innate sense of right and wrong. Pushed into an emergency, that conscience is acted upon, like when someone is drowning and you cast them a life preserver.
Deep down, we all have a sense of what is right and wrong, but the community in which you surround yourself can influence those feelings. For example, in 1963, prayer was no longer allowed in public schools because it was considered a violation of Article 1 of the Constitution, which prevents religious teaching at tax payers’ expense. Secularism was then adopted into our public education system, which was supposed to remain religiously neutral. (As stated earlier, there really is no “neutrality” because when you state your view, you forfeit neutrality.) Steadily over the years, a philosophy of Naturalism replaced a Christian worldview. This position believes everything comes from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or rejected. From this viewpoint, the idea of personal autonomy and one’s personal subjective preference has become the deciding factor of what is the correct course of action, rather than some objective moral standard.
As our culture embraced this worldview, women became adamant that they should have personal autonomy over their own bodies, and thus in 1973, abortion became legal. Slightly over two decades later, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, infamously known as “Dr. Death”, argued for physician-assisted suicide based on the abortion decision. He brought the issue to the forefront, and eventually, his views won over some of the populace. Since women have the right to terminate their pregnancies, why shouldn’t people who are suffering have the right to die?
Today, physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in now legal in four states. This demonstrates how the views of the culture can influence peoples’ thinking to change from what was once considered a moral imperative to value human life at any stage, to a value of doing what is right in one’s own eyes.
Morality based on the “flavor of the day” is subject to change as quickly as the popularity of an idea takes root. For example, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted in 1996 to allow states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage, and defined “spouse” as a heterosexual couple, which the majority of Americans supported. However, in the past five years, support for DOMA has waned. Perhaps due to the influence of the media depicting fun gay couples in TV shows and movies, those in favor of same-sex marriage grew. In the summer of 2013, the US Supreme Court decided DOMA was unconstitutional, and as of November 20, 2013, same sex marriage is now legal in sixteen US states, and that is expected to increase.
From these examples, you can see where relativism can lead. In the future, who is to say that if a bi-sexual male wants to marry his female and male partner, since he loves them both, he can’t do that? What about someone wanting to marry a sibling—who are you to say that is wrong? If we continue to go down the path of relativism, lines of right and wrong will blur. We will stumble, trying to redefine those lines by adopting new laws to fit society’s status quo. Ultimately, someone defines those standards. Who might that be? We need to ask ourselves what truth is and who determines it.
Jesus Christ said that he is the truth. His resurrection gives good reason to believe in Christianity, which teaches people to live with clearly defined moral objectives that help humanity remain civilized, treating each other with respect from a core belief that all people are sacred beings, created in the image of God.
When you thoroughly look at relativism, it’s clear that everyone believes in something, and to say all truth is relative is simply not true—it lacks good judgment. Therefore, if relativism is false, moral objectives must be true. There is no middle ground.
Beckwith, Francis J. and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.
Jones, Clay. Prepared Defense: Fast Answers to Tough Questions, CD-ROM, v. 2.0. Austin, TX: Wordsearch, 2011, s.v. “Relativism’s Folly.”
Greve, Joan E. “Illinois Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Legal Battles Loom in 10 More States,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/11/illinois-legalizes-same-sex-
marriage-legal-battles-loom-in-10-more-states/, (accessed November 24, 2013).
The most common objection to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that miracles are impossible. A miracle is a supernatural event that can’t be explained by natural laws (science) because it transcends those laws. Since the resurrection was a miracle, trying to explain it scientifically won’t work. There are good reasons to believe this pivotal event in history really happened because of eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. There were plenty of people who claim they saw the risen Christ, and their testimonies conclude that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead.
Not only did the disciples see the risen Christ, but hundreds of witnesses say they saw him at various times and places. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fishermen on the shore, to James, and even to five hundred people at once, as Paul wrote, “most of whom are still alive.”
Paul wanted the Corinthians, who doubted bodily resurrection, to check out his claim—meaning, he wanted them to verify his account with some of those hundreds who saw Jesus alive—stressing the trustworthiness of the appearance. The witnesses were available for cross-examination by those who wanted to stop this new religious movement in its tracks.
Well known speaker and author Josh McDowell asserts that there were plenty of “New Testament accounts of the resurrection being circulated within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of such accounts.”
Skeptics argue that no amount of personal testimony is sufficient to establish a violation of natural law. Physicists don’t believe the facts of physics because of personal testimony from other physicists; rather, they believe because they can do the experiment for themselves.
This rationale works well for natural sciences, but not well in history, for historians still judge events by the reliability of witnesses.
The witnesses of the resurrection are reliable for several reasons. One is that this event completely transformed their lives. For example, the furthest thing from Paul’s mind was that he’d see the resurrected Christ. Before his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul the Pharisee who participated in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58), hated Christians, thought they were heretics, and was bent on destroying them. Jesus would have been the last person Paul would have wanted to see. A transformation also occurred in James, the brother of Jesus, who previously thought Jesus was simply confused about being the Messiah. Furthermore, both of these men were radically converted into believers upon seeing Jesus resurrected to the point they were both martyred for their belief. Historians wrote that eventually ten apostles were killed for preaching the risen Christ.
Lastly, if these people lied about the physical resurrection of Jesus’ body, faced with death, wouldn’t they have recanted to save their own lives? Author Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.”
There is also the fact that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. If the enemies of Christ wanted to prove his resurrection didn’t happen, all they had to do was to get his body and show it to the authorities, but no body was ever discovered. Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery asserts: “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
When these points are discussed, skeptics will attack the credibility of the Bible itself, determined to dismiss the miraculous event of the resurrection. However, regarding the accuracy of the gospels, the New Testament documents are the best attested documents of ancient history,as there are historical methods for assessing the reliability of classical texts by which the Bible has been reviewed.
English skeptic David Hume adds up the evidence against the miracle of the resurrection by stating that since death happens to almost everyone, as there are only a few stories of resurrections, these accounts must be false in comparison to the billions of deaths in history. This equates evidence with probability and implies you should never believe that long shots win. If this is true, even naturalists, who only believe in the material world and reject anything spiritual or supernatural, shouldn’t trust the Big Bang Theory since it supposedly only happened once.
Finally, stating that miracles are impossible may be an indirect way of saying there is no God. (Justifying the existence of God is a point that can be made in another paper.) If you recognize there is a God, then He could most certainly work outside of the laws of nature and raise Jesus from the dead. After careful examination of the New Testament testimonies, and being honest about whether you have an anti-supernatural bias, there is only one reasonable conclusion: a miracle happened over two thousand years ago when God raised Jesus from the dead.
Come Reason Ministries. “Are Miracles Logically Impossible?” http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi060.asp#ixzz2kddnZD59, (accessed November 17, 2013).
Geisler, Norman and Ronald Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: a Handbook on Christian Evidences, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.
Gertz, Steven. “How do we know 10 of the disciples were martyred?” Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/asktheexpert/sep23.html (accessed September 30, 2013).
Hazen, Craig. 2001. Evidence for the Resurrection. Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, CA. June 7.
Little, Paul. Know Why You Believe, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1967.
McDowell, Josh. “Evidence for the Resurrection.” Leadership U, Leaderu.com. http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html (accessed October 1, 2013).
Montgomery, John W. History and Christianity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 1971. As quoted in Clay Jones, Prepared Defense: Fast Answers to Tough Questions, v. 2.0, (Austin, TX: Wordsearch, 2011), s.v. “Hallucination Theory.”
Russell, Jeffrey Betrand. Miracles are Impossible, Part 1, BioLogos Foundation,
http://biologos.org/blog/miracles-are-impossible-part-1, (accessed November 23, 2013).
We’ve all heard of hallucinations; maybe even experienced one ourselves. We wake from a bad dream, and for an instant a shadowy figure seems to be in our room. Maybe a chronic migraine caused you to see intense colors or hear strange noises. Perhaps in your deep despair over the sudden loss of a loved one, for a moment, you think you see him sitting in his favorite easy chair. Generally, these hallucinations eventually fade away, and life resumes. This kind of illusion, however, was not the case for a group of people who saw something that not only changed their lives, but also changed the world.
The Christian faith depends on the testimony of the disciples who say they saw Jesus alive after being crucified. To explain these testimonies, some skeptics often try to justify the resurrection in naturalistic terms, calling it a mere hallucination. In this paper, I will show that the Hallucination Theory fails to account for relevant facts, and that the best explanation for Jesus’ resurrection is that his physical body was actually raised from the dead.
What exactly is a hallucination?
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states hallucinations involve sensing things while awake that appear to be real, but instead have been created by the mind. According to the National Institute of Health, common causes of these experiences vary from being drunk or high on drugs, delirium or dementia, epilepsy, having a high fever, or some other psychiatric disorder.
Perhaps the disciples, along with hundreds of other witnesses recorded in the New Testament, were simply hallucinating the appearances of the risen Christ. This Hallucination Theory at least recognizes that people did see an appearance of some type. Instead of flat-out denying these accounts, skeptics like Dr. Richard Carrier, will grant that yes, these witnesses conceivably “saw” something. “I believe the best explanation, consistent with both scientific findings and the surviving evidence (particular to Christianity and the general cultural milieu in which it rose), is that the first Christians experienced hallucinations of the risen Christ, of one form or another.”
Deeply troubled and very depressed that the one they believed was going to save them died, maybe the followers of Christ got drunk, as nonbelievers have suggested, and hallucinated the resurrection. Except there’s a hitch to this theory: this isn’t an isolated hallucination. Not only did the eleven disciples see Jesus on at least one occasion, but hundreds of witnesses say they saw him (I Cor. 15:5) at various times and places. People don’t usually hallucinate the same thing. Clinical Psychologist Gary Collins says it’s generally very personal:
By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.
The New Testament documents say that plenty of others claimed to see Jesus alive in separate events. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fishermen on the shore, to James, and even to five hundred people at once, as Paul wrote, “most of whom are still alive.”
Paul wanted the Corinthians, who doubted bodily resurrection, to check out his claim—meaning, he wanted them to verify his account with some of those hundreds who saw Jesus alive—stressing the trustworthiness of the appearance. The witnesses were available for cross-examination by those who wanted to stop this new movement in its tracks. To try and find another event like this in history, where there are groups of people seeing the same thing, there are just no credible examples. Five hundred separate “Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter,” the Handbook of Christian Apologetics mentions.
Arguing against these points, skeptic Chris Hallquist of Patheos.com, claims that there are examples of mass hallucinations that could account for the appearances of Christ:
First of all, we know that hallucinations, false memories, and so on seem to be an important source of religious and paranormal beliefs. This is something I pointed out in my first book, focusing on the example of ‘alien abductees.’ The short of it is that there are many people in the US today who, as far as anyone can tell, sincerely believe they have been abducted by space aliens. They aren’t all lone psychiatric patients; there are organizations for these people.
Those who claim to have been abducted by aliens experienced unique, personal events specific to the individual. This doesn’t rival the appearance of Christ to several hundred people over a period of forty days. As far as we know, there is no bona fide record of five hundred people being abducted by aliens all at once. Also, it seems that alien abduction records would be similar from person to person due to the expectations of aliens our culture has, but this can’t compare to the disciples who had no expectation of Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection—this was out of their paradigm.
Still, German New Testament Scholar, Gerd Ludemann, justifies his belief in the Hallucination Theory by using Carl Jung’s collective unconscious hypothesis, an analytical-psychological term which is based on Jung’s experiences with schizophrenic persons while working at a psychiatric hospital. It’s what you might call a contagious vision, a theory that claims part of the unconscious mind is shared by a people, a product of ancestral experience, and contains ideas in science, religion, and morality.
“Surely a historical study of the resurrection of Jesus or the belief of individual Christians that they ‘saw’ Jesus after his death has to be supplemented by the enhanced understanding of the human mind and personality that modern psychology has afforded us,” Ludemann said. “This is nothing but an application of new knowledge.”
This “new knowledge” would have us believe that these particular Jews experienced a hallucination so powerful that they rejected their ancient belief system, something this collective unconscious experience is supposed to strengthen. Even if you thought all the disciples suffered from some mental illness that caused them to see the exact same thing, there is insufficient data to psychoanalyze key witnesses to these events. That is why this kind of psycho-biography is rejected by historians.
Other skeptics continue to insist the resurrection was a mass hallucination by using examples like the Salem Witch Trials, where more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft by paranoid citizens, or the audience’s reaction to the 1938 War of the Worlds radio show.
This broadcast was a hoax, but not everyone heard the introduction to the radio show explaining this fact. Tuning in later, some believed the story was true, and a few started hallucinating sounds or objects in the sky. However, historians claim that newspaper accounts over the following week greatly exaggerated the hysteria.
So, unlike the War of the Worlds incident or the Salem Witch Trials, the resurrection sightings were not due to mass hysteria-caused hallucinations. Most medical professionals note that when there is a perceived public safety threat, panic can break out and an episode of psychogenic illness can affect people where they see strange things.
Mass hysteria is primarily fear-based, but seeing the resurrected Jesus wasn’t. If anything, it was more doubt-based.Hallucinations often occur out of a deep desire of the bereaved to see someone again, but this was not the case for the disciples. The disciples certainly didn’t think a bodily resurrection was possible. They didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell them about his death and resurrection. “The last thing they imagined was that this Kingdom bringer, this Jesus they were coming to believe might be God’s Messiah, would actually die at the hands of the pagan occupying forces,” states Anglican bishop and a leading New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright.
Wright explains that the Jewish belief system did not account for a bodily resurrection of anyone before the end of the age (or the world). Jesus’ death dashed all the disciple’ hopes, and they were feeling lucky to have escaped with their lives. The furthest thing from their minds was that they’d see Jesus alive again, and actually sit down and eat with him.
As mentioned above, the furthest thing from Paul’s mind was that he’d see the resurrected Christ. Before his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul the Pharisee who participated in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58), hated Christians, thought they were heretics, and was bent on destroying them. Jesus would have been the last person Paul would have wanted to see. (Hallucinations typically are produced from a yearning to see someone again.
A transformation also occurred in James, the brother of Jesus, who previously thought Jesus was simply confused about being the Messiah. Yet both of these men were radically converted into believers upon seeing Jesus resurrected to the point they were both martyred for their belief. In fact, historians wrote that eventually ten apostles were killed for preaching the risen Christ. If these men had hallucinated the physical resurrection of Jesus’ body, knowing the difference between a vision and a real person, and faced with death, wouldn’t they have recanted to save their own lives?
Skeptics say Osama Bin Laden trained terrorists to die on 9/11 for a cause they believed in, so perhaps the disciples were of the same mindset. However, these extremists were trained from childhood in a culture that promoted such sacrifice. The disciples were converted to Christianity as adults, and they weren’t indoctrinated to be martyrs for Jesus. As Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.”
Jesus’ disciples witnessed the resurrection events directly and genuinely believed that their leader was alive. Bin Laden’s terrorists rode on faith alone, not knowing if what they believed was true or not. The apostles had their beliefs in faith and by experience—they witnessed it, and knew it was not a lie.
When these evidences are established, skeptics resort to denying the credibility of the biblical texts themselves. Because of perceived inconsistencies in the gospel accounts, they aren’t convinced that every appearance of Jesus took place. “It is perfectly reasonable for skeptics to regard all the appearance stories as legendary accretions, but if we do concede that some of the disciples experienced an ‘appearance,’ there is no reason they could not have been hallucinations or visions,” states skeptic Keith M. Parsons.
However, there were plenty of people then who would have tried to refute these appearance claims. “The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were being circulated within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the resurrection,” Josh McDowell asserts. “Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of such accounts.”
Regarding the accuracy of the gospels, the New Testament documents are the best attested documents of ancient history, as there are historical methods for assessing the reliability of classical texts by which the Bible has been reviewed.
The Empty Tomb and Missing Corpse
Lastly, there is the empty tomb and missing corpse that the Hallucination Theory can’t adequately explain. Jesus had plenty of enemies with huge incentives who would have loved nothing better than to have produced his corpse, stopping all claims of his resurrection. But the tomb was discovered empty, and there is no record of his corpse ever being found.
The fact that history remains silent on this speaks volumes. It’s assumed if such a find did happen, there certainly would have been records of it. Having Jesus’ bones would have been customary in ancient Israel, as explained in the burial practices of a particular Jewish tradition:
First, you carefully wrapped up the body with spices and linen and placed it on a shelf in a cave. Then, when the flesh had decomposed–hence the spices because of the smell, since the cave would be used for more than one corpse–you would collect the bones, fold them up reverently, and store them in a bone box (an ossuary). If Jesus had not been raised, then sooner or later someone would have had to go and collect his bones, fold them up, and store them. If anyone suggested that he had been raised from the dead, the bones in the tomb would be enough to disprove the suggestion.
Wright explained that the disciples knew the difference between seeing a ghost (a hallucination) and a real body, and without an empty tomb, they would have used different language; they would not have used the term “resurrected” in their testimonies.
Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery asserts: “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
From this small band of fishermen, Pharisees and women, came the start of the Christian Church which today has more followers than any religion on the planet, and continues to grow. Considering the facts, it’s unconvincing to think the resurrection, the event foundational to this thriving religion, is based on a figment of the imagination. A hallucination simply does not give an adequate explanation for how so many people saw Jesus alive after his death on the cross, how the appearances lasted forty days and then suddenly stopped, the empty tomb and missing corpse, how this event transformed the apostles’ lives to the point of martyrdom, and lastly, how a church movement started that changed the world. Even Jesus himself said in Luke 24:39, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
If you dismiss the assumption that miracles don’t happen, after careful examination of the facts, you’re left with only one reasonable conclusion: a supernatural event occurred over two thousand years ago when God raised Jesus from the dead—a phenomenon that radically transformed what we know about life and death.
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