How Should We Interpret the Resurrection Account?

I decided to write this work of parody after I read an extremely fallacious article on the BioLogos website two years ago. I was shocked by the author’s deceptive use of the historical-critical method so they could completely change the meaning of the text, and disappointed by their mention of the faulty “two books” theory.1

The Historical-Critical Method

In a nutshell, the type of historical criticism I’m referring to is when people use historical context to deceptively change the meaning of the text. (Usually, when people refer to historical-criticism they mean the usual kind where you use historical context in order to understand the Bible better—not the kind when someone deceitfully reinterprets the Bible.2) The correct way to interpret the Bible is first to let the Bible interpret itself.3 For example, even though the author of the BioLogos article claims that there are “clues” that the flood account is hyperbole, the fact that it’s presented in the format of a historical narrative and that Jesus refers to it as a real event (Matt. 24:38-39) trumps the “evidence” that people in ancient times often retold stories in figurative ways.

While you’re reading their article, notice how none of the author’s arguments rest directly upon scripture. The entire article is marvelous tale of how they can use extrabiblical resources to find the “true meaning” of the text. They say, “Not only do we need to read the Flood story through the lens of ancient literature, but also ancient cosmology,” instead of focusing on reading the Bible through its own eyes!

In an especially helpful article on this kind of historical criticism, David Farnell says, “When the text of Scripture offends current sensibilities or perceptions, i.e. ‘fads’ and ‘popular ideas’ of the critics day, the biblical critic can apply historical criticism in any way desired to the text to guarantee the interpretive outcome.” BioLogos admits that most Christians thought the flood was a real event “until modern times.” And why did people think that? Because that’s what the Bible said!

But now the “popular idea” of the day is that the universe is millions of years old. And “popular” is what most people want to believe. So what do some Christians turn to? Historical criticism. “It is the ingredient that is used to make the Bible say whatever the researcher wants it to say,” Farnell says. 

But really? Anything you want? How could this method be so convincing?

I had to try it out.

I could “unprove” anything

As I thought about the techniques they had used to reduce the Flood from reality to a fairy tale, I realized that I could do it too. Not only that, but I could do it using the exact same words (which will be explained soon). Their technique was so effective that I could use it to unprove4 anything!

According to their logic, the writers of the flood account were “not intending to relate a literal series of events,” and they proved this “fact” using magical “literary clues” and “ancient context.” But if that’s the case, then who’s to say that David was real, or Isaiah, or Moses? Who’s to say that Jesus even rose from the dead?

And that’s what I would prove. That the resurrection never happened. But why would I do this? What good does it do? Isn’t copying their words and using them to create a crazy, nonsensical argument kind of mean?

The Absurd Example Method

I have a book called Attacking Faulty Reasoning, and it does a very good job of explaining methods you can use to help others understand why they are wrong. (OK, a pretty good job other than the time the author fallaciously accused Jesus of using a fallacy. 😂) In the book, Edward Damer explains a method to attack faulty reasoning called the “absurd example method.” Edward says that if you want to use the absurd example method, “construct an argument of your own that has the same form or pattern as the reconstructed argument of your opponent. Construct your argument, however, so that it leads to an obviously false conclusion.”5

The reason you do this is not to belittle them about how dumb they are, but to open their eyes to the fact that what they believe leads to dark places.

The Exact “Form and Pattern”

Now, instead of just copying the general form and pattern of their argument, I thought that copying their exact form and pattern would be most revealing. So, the fake article below quotes heavily from the BioLogos article, and it only differs where certain, specific points need to be made.

If you want to see how similar these two pieces are, I recommend visiting this text comparison page6 that shows what’s the same and what’s different between my version and the original. You should also read their article for yourself.

A comparison of “How Should we Interpret the Genesis Flood Account?” on the left and “How Should we Interpret the Resurrection Account?” on the right.

So, without further ado, I present:

How Should We Interpret the Resurrection Account?

Originally written on August 18, 2022 by the fictional Dr. BarnelbyA professor at the Wheely College of the Extremely Liberal Arts.

The story of Jesus, his death, and the Resurrection in the Gospels is one of the most famous and controversial passages in the entire Bible. The story, centered around God in human form rising from the dead, has captured the imagination of people for millennia. Until modern times, most Christians assumed the story referred to an actual event around two thousand years ago, and this interpretation of the Resurrection continues to be a central feature of orthodox Christianity. However, the discoveries of modern science, as well as an explosion of new knowledge about Biblical times, have decisively challenged whether this interpretation is the best reading of the text. This includes the work of many Christian scholars and scientists who were (and continue to be) guided by a belief that all truth is God’s truth, that Scripture is inspired, and that the testimony of God’s creation should not be ignored. The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a resurrection.

Relating Science and Scripture

When discoveries in God’s world conflict with interpretations of God’s Word, Christians have three options:

  1. Abandon our faith in order to accept the results of science,
  2. Deny the scientific evidence to maintain our interpretations of Scripture,
  3. Reconsider our interpretations of Scripture in light of the evidence from God’s creation

Christians, by definition, reject Option 1. Option 2 has a terrible historical track record, and many prominent historical theologians have urged Christians not to ignore or dismiss the findings of science. Option 3 represents the best tradition among Christians, and history provides many examples of our knowledge of the natural world helping to correct faulty interpretations of Scripture. The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo (that the Earth is not the center of the universe), for instance, changed the Church’s perspective on whether the Bible intends to teach us about Earth’s place in the solar system.

Because we take God to be the author of the “book of nature” as well as the divine author of the book of Scripture, we believe the proper interpretation of the Resurrection story will not be in conflict with what we have discovered in the natural world.

The Bible in the context of the Classical Era

The Bible is a record of encounters between Almighty God and ordinary humans who lived thousands of years ago. As biblical scholar John Walton puts it, the Bible was written for us all, but it was not written to us. Thus, for us to understand what the Gospels mean, we first need to understand what it meant to those who wrote and received it.

It was common practice in the Classical Era to use an event (or memory of an event) and retell it in a figurative way to communicate a message to the hearers. These retellings are often called myths. There is good scriptural and historical evidence that the Resurrection story is an interpretation of an actual historical event retold in the rhetoric and theology of the Jewish people. The Resurrection account is one of many stories of resurrections in world history, including the Norse tale of Balder, which bears striking similarities to the story of Jesus’s resurrection. 

In Balder’s story, after Balder dies from the success of Loki’s evil plan, he is eventually resurrected with the passing of Ragnarök. Ragnarök is the Norse version of the apocalypse in which the whole world is destroyed and recreated. After the recreation of the world, Balder is said to rule the new earth with his brother Höðr and Thor’s sons. 

As you can see, the story of Balder is very similar to the Resurrection story in a number of ways. After Jesus is said to die and come back to life, the Bible says he will come back at the time of the apocalypse, recreate the world, and then rule over the New Earth for all of eternity.

This doesn’t mean that the Resurrection story is borrowed from the stories of other cultures, but that it is based on a common cultural belief of something like a resurrection.

Also, the exact nature or date of the alleged resurrection is not important to the meaning of the Resurrection account, however, because the purpose of the biblical story is not to give a list of facts about the resurrection but to communicate a message about God and humanity to the original hearers (and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to all God’s people throughout history).

Interpreting the Resurrection story

The Resurrection story contains many literary clues that its writers (and original audience) were not intended to narrate an actual series of events. The story employs the literary device known as “hyperbole” throughout, describing a large earthquake at the death of Jesus⁠—which would be highly unlikely to occur around the same time⁠—a mysterious darkness like an eclipse that lasted a scientifically impossible amount of time,7 a swarm of zombies who rise from their graves (Matt. 27:52-53), Jesus teleporting from place to place in his new body, and spiritual beings of light known as angels. These are not meant to challenge readers to figure out the practicality of such descriptions, but rather they are important clues that we are dealing with a theological story rather than journalism in the Classical Era.

There are other clues that the writers are not intending to relate a literal series of events. One is the command Jesus gave to a fig tree near the beginning of the holy week. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus  curses the tree and it withers immediately. But in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus curses the tree and it withers as they pass by it the next day. The Gospels also have extremely varied accounts of who arrived at the empty tomb first. Another clue about how to interpret the Resurrection story comes from its placement in the Gospels and specifically in the “resurrection narratives” at the end of the Gospels.

Biblical scholars almost universally see these chapters as having a different purpose than the rest of the chapters in the Gospels. The resurrection narratives are a huge portion of the Gospels and are highly figurative in their language. They serve as the grand and poetic “introduction” to the story of the church which commences with the Great Commission in Matthew 25. While they speak of real events (such as the death of Jesus and the special calling of humankind), they do so in rhetorical and theological ways that have more to do with the purposes of the story than a plain narration of facts. This is completely typical of how the people of the Roman world (including the Jews) wrote historical accounts, especially concerning the resurrections of their gods. People in those days were more concerned with the meaning of events rather than the facts of the events.8

Jewish worldview in the Resurrection story

Not only do we need to read the Resurrection story through the lens of classical literature, but also the Jewish worldview. Because the Jewish people (like all people in the Roman world) lacked MRI machines, heart rate monitors, and other modern scientific equipment, they pictured the world as it appeared to everyday observation. The Jewish people thought that resurrections were possible due to records of three resurrections in the Torah, Rabbinic teaching that the faithful would be resurrected in the Old Testament, and the promise of a Messiah who would die and rise again. But, the evidence stands against these beliefs.

The Resurrection narrative relies on this same understanding of the world. The Gospel narratives themselves mention a large number of Jews who had this perspective, and even the authors of the Gospels were Jewish. When Jesus told his disciples—some of whom would write the Gospels—to “Follow me,” they obeyed without hesitation because they were in such great expectation of a Messiah. It is no wonder that they fell folly to writing Jesus’s Resurrection as if it were a historical event. Their worldview demanded it.

Modern people read the Resurrection story with a completely different perspective on the possibility of the resurrection of the dead. Those who say the story portrays a “true” resurrection from death to life,9 for instance, are imposing that term upon the text because the original audience could not really be sure that Jesus was actually dead. They did not have the sensitive equipment we have today. It is well known in the scientific literature that people can appear to be dead with an indiscernible heart and breath rate and yet still be able to be resuscitated later. In addition to all of this, any speculation about how Jesus rose from the dead (or other similar questions) is missing the point of the story.

The meaning of the Resurrection

To some, the view outlined here of the Resurrection account denies the divine inspiration of the text and instead makes the entire story a fanciful myth. But it’s important to remember that God chose to communicate his message through ordinary people, accommodating himself to their limited knowledge in order to draw them to him. God did not give the ancient Israelites scientific data (facts that came from an observation), nor did he give the Jewish people new genres of literature. The Jewish people simply did not have the means of communicating actual events through words without sacrificing the true meaning of the story.

The story of Jesus and his death & resurrection speaks an inspired and powerful message about judgment and grace that has instructed God’s people throughout the ages about God’s hatred of sin and his love for his people. Most importantly, we see God’s promise of eternal life for believers fully realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where God takes the judgment for sin upon himself rather than humanity. Thus, through the lens of Christ, the Resurrection story proclaims the marvelous news of God’s grace and love for his people.

Also, I highly recommend BioLogos’s article: How Should We Interpret the Genesis Flood Account? It is a marvelous piece that shows how science and scripture can work together in harmony, which was my hope with this article.

In a way, this article is really two articles, both presenting different perspectives. The first half answers the question of “How Should We Interpret the Resurrection Account?” by saying we should let scripture interpret scripture, and the second half by Dr. Barnelby advances the idea that we should use “reason” and “evidence” to morph the meaning of the Bible to our liking.

How do you think we should interpret the resurrection account?


  1. What I’m referring to by “two books” is this quote from their article: “Because we take God to be the author of the ‘book of nature’ as well as the divine author of the book of Scripture, we believe the proper interpretation of the Flood story will not be in conflict with what we have discovered in the natural world.”

    The reason why this statement is wrong is explained very well in multiple places of the Creation Ministries International (CMI) website. For example, in this book review they say “calling nature a ‘book’ is an error, because unlike books, nature cannot communicate to us in propositional statements.” And also in this review of Controversy of the Ages, “Since general revelation [the “book” of nature] is non-propositional, it must be interpreted within a worldview. The Bible, on the other hand, is propositional, not ‘interpreted’ the way data must be.” CMI also has a short video on the topic. ↩︎
  2. “In conservative hermeneutics, the historical-cultural context is not used to question the truth of the Bible but to understand it better.” –How Does Historical-Cultural Context Influence Biblical Interpretation? ↩︎
  3. Martin H. Franzmann says in an essay on Scripture and Interpertation (pdf), “In the case of a passage not immediately clear we look first to the immediate context, then to the remoter context of the work in which the passage occurs, then to the whole body of works by the same author, then to the whole New Testament, and then to the whole Bible. Here again, as in the case of usage, we let Scripture interpret Scripture.” A few sections before this statement, he had an excellent section where he talked about the flaws of the historical-critical method. After giving an example of the method’s usage he said, “This is no longer historical investigation but a prejudging of the history that concerns the church, on the basis of analogies which do not fit that history.” ↩︎
  4. Unprove is a word. In the Oxford English Dictionary (one of the only places I could find a definition for it), it said unprove means “To disprove, refute; to deny, reject.” ↩︎
  5. You can read the rest of the section talking about the absurd example method here. And you can preview the book below. ↩︎
  6. If the link for the comparison doesn’t work, then it is also archived here. ↩︎
  7. The Bible says the darkness lasted for three hours (Matt. 27:45). Eclipses can only be up to seven minutes long. ↩︎
  8. One well-known example of this is the Roman Aenied which was a tale commissioned by the emperor of the time in order to prove his noble origins. The author, Virgil, wasn’t so much concerned with the truth of his account, but rather the glory it would bestow upon the emperor. ↩︎
  9. Even the theoretical idea of a true resurrection is disproved by the fact that if chemical bonds were to be restored with energy from an outside source after the body started decaying, it would break the law of entropy. ↩︎

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