Westminster Seminary California
The Shroud of Turin and Absurdity

Ever since the resurrection of Christ, there has been a steady drumbeat of claims denying, in one form or another, the veracity and reality of the resurrection. Over the years theories have been offered--the disciples were confused, they lied, they stole the body, they shared a common hallucination, Jesus actually never died, he swooned on the cross, there was a body-double, and on and on. Well, we can add a new entry. Today on the web there is an article showcasing a soon to be released book about the (in)famous (?) Shroud of Turin. Here are two key claims from the book:

"Throughout most of history images have been viewed as mysterious, metaphysical beings... Before the Enlightenment, images of gods, sains, spirits and ancestors were routinely credited with power, not only affecting the emotions of those who looked at them, but also influencing the course of events. In the premodern world images were perceived to be, in some sense, alive."

"The Shroud's envelopment of Jesus's body would have fostered the idea of the transference of his soul from flesh to cloth... Christ's clothing (like Peter's shadow) contained or conveyed something of his spiritual presence. The Shroud, which clothed Jesus in the tomb, would surely have been infused with similar power - a power focused and increased by its "miraculous" image."

In a nutshell, the claim is that the the disciples didn't personally encounter the risen Christ but rather the shroud. Given the supposed mystical powers of shrouds, this led the disciples to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. 

With a claim like this, you really have to scratch your head and ask, "Has this person actually read the Bible?" Paul explains that Jesus appeared to 500 brothers at once, to James, the apostles, and then to Paul himself (1 Cor. 15.6-8). Peter had a difficult conversation with the resurrected Christ and even ate a meal with him (John 21). Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb (Matt. 28.1-10). Jesus also appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus and instructed them from the Scriptures (Luke 24.27-34). 

I have not read the book, as it is scheduled for release in April. Nevertheless, I wish that critics would be honest about their so-called "theories." If these 500+ people simply had a mystical encounter with a bed-sheet, then why not say they were foolish pre-scientific simpletons who believed in magic, or, that they are liars because they recounted their stories about the magical bed-sheet as if they were interacting with a real flesh and blood person. In other words, we can apply C. S. Lewis's trilemma here; Lewis once wrote that Jesus was either Lord, liar, or lunatic. He claimed to be God, which if untrue, he was either a liar on the level of a demon, or he was a lunatic, on the level of someone who would claim to be a poached egg. On the other hand, if he spoke the truth, then he is Lord and we have the obligation to follow and worship him. In other words, Jesus does not leave us any other options. We cannot say that he was a kind teacher or a good man--this is not an option.

Likewise, the disciples are either liars, seriously deluded, or they're telling the truth. There are no other options. If they really had an encounter with a mystical bedsheet, then go out tonight, have a party, raise your glass into the air, toast the meaningless of life, and then get drunk as skunk. Or as Paul puts it, "If the dead are not raised,  'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15.32). 

The resurrection is a sine qua non of the Christian faith. Again, as Paul writes: 

"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead,  how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead,  then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that  he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and  you are still in your sins. Then those also who  have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope  in this life only,  we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15.12-19).

To borrow and slightly modify a line from J. Gresham Machen, "The resurrection, no hope without it."