Mad, bad, God or mistaken
Although many atheists do indeed accept that Jesus existed as a man in Palestine some 2,000 years ago, they will by definition not accept that He was God. It presumably follows that they must find “rational” explanations for all the miracles He is reported to have performed, or else must consider that they were simply made up by biased reporters of the events of the time. This is a bigger task than one might imagine for the gospels are full of miracle accounts; if we throw out the miracles, we really have to throw out the gospels altogether. In Mark’s account, for example, miracles form a key part of every one of the first ten chapters. Indeed, all the gospels include many accounts of miraculous events, from the changing of water into wine, to the multiplication of a few loaves and fishes so as to feed thousands of hungry disciples, to mass healings of the sick and the raising of the dead. And all the gospels, of course, tell us about the ultimate miracle of Christ’s resurrection.
It is surely not possible to reject the miracles whilst continuing to argue that the gospels give an otherwise accurate record of Jesus’ life. The main point of the miracles, after all, was to reveal God’s glory (John 2:11), to help people to believe in Him (John 3:2; John 14:11), to call people to repentance (Luke 10:13).
It has been suggested that Jesus must have been “mad, bad or God”. Dawkins likes to add “a fourth possibility … that Jesus was honestly mistaken”. But a moment’s thought makes it clear that there are real problems with any assertion that Jesus was mad, bad or mistaken. No amount of delusion on the part of Jesus could explain even the lesser miracles, let alone the raising of the dead and Christ’s own resurrection.
Faced with accounts of the resurrection, the argument must surely move on from the personality of Jesus Christ to the accuracy of the claim that He rose from the dead. This is not an incidental detail, but is at the very heart of Christian belief: if there is no resurrection then there is no Christianity (whatever certain liberal theologians may choose to believe). St Paul, at the dawn of Christianity, was quite clear that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17).