FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: Resurrection

Overview

What's the Focus

Science is often seen in today’s Western culture as the ultimate source of authentic knowledge. It has, many would argue, dispelled myths, displaced superstition, and gifted us with objective truth. When we think about tensions in the relationship between faith and science we may most immediately think about questions of origins, yet the resurrection of Christ is more central to Christian theology and is also seen by believers in materialistic scientism as a claim that must be discounted on the basis of modern science. As we know in more scientific detail than ever before, dead people stay dead. Is belief in the resurrection a pre-scientific superstition or could it still be rational?

This Activity Map for high school Bible classes aims to help students engage with the the resurrection from several angles. How much can the methods of natural science tell us about the activity of God? Was it easier for first century Christians to believe in resurrection (i.e., were they more gullible folk who expected people to rise from death and so were more easily deceived)? Are there grounds for claiming belief in the resurrection that are rational and defensible? These activities aim to model the practice of addressing faith questions in a way that neither overestimates nor dismisses science.

It is not necessary to use every activity in your class. This activity map offers a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. While some of the activities form a possible sequence, you can select the ones most suitable for your context and adapt them to connect to your own plan for learning.

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

You can mix and match these activities as you wish. It is not intended that all these activities should be used with the same class.

Quick Stop Lesson Plan

The best way to use this activity map is to explore all the activities and see which ones fit in your particular teaching context. If you just need a quick way to explore the themes of the map, you can use the links below to preview and download a sampler of three activities selected from this activity map.

PreviewDownload Files

Discover Activities

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

  • Activity

    10 min

    The Importance of the Resurrection

  • Activity

    15 min

    The Absurdity of the Resurrection?

The Importance of the Resurrection

In Brief

This first activity engages students in considering how important the resurrection really is to the Christian faith. It invites them to view their own assumptions in comparison to those of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

Goals

The topic of resurrection and its importance to Christian faith are introduced.

Students examine their assumptions about how central the resurrection is and learn about its centrality in New Testament Theology.

Thinking Ahead

The Apostles’ Creed, a key confession of faith by the early Christian Church, affirms belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the “resurrection of the body.” The importance of this creed invites us to consider what we emphasize when articulating the Christian Gospel. Is the resurrection of Jesus an afterthought to the death of Jesus, the “happy ending” to the main event of Jesus’ crucifixion? Could focus on atonement lead to downplaying the importance of the resurrection?

This activity engages students in voicing, and then critically considering, their assumptions regarding what is most important for Christians to confess and then to measure their assumptions against the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 about the utmost importance of the resurrection. Consider your regular teaching practices and how often you help students to become aware of their own assumptions and test them against relevant sources. Doing so is an important part of the process of learning to think in new ways.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Bibles

  • Access to polling technology

Teaching the Activity

Use either an informal poll such as a show of hands, or an online polling tool such as socrative.com or kahoot.it, and ask students: what is the most important teaching in the Christian faith? If you think your students need help, offer a list of options such as the incarnation, death for sins on the cross, creation, second coming, divinity of Jesus, resurrection, love of neighbor, becoming holy, etc.

Engage students in a brief discussion as to why they picked the option they did. Then have them turn together to 1 Corinthians 15  and use Bibles and/or project the text from a site such as biblegateway.com. This is a long chapter, but worth reading in full. Have students take turns reading aloud in pairs, reading all 58 verses.

Finally, return to the initial discussion and ask students what importance Paul gives to the resurrection. Draw their attention, if necessary, to verses 2 and 14 which first emphasize the importance of the gospel and then of the resurrection.

Also ask students to describe the key emphases of the whole passage. Ask them how Paul’s emphasis here matches the choice they made. Would they have instinctively placed as much weight on the resurrection as Paul does? Why would Paul make so much of the resurrection? Why might it matter? Does the passage offer clues? Point out also the strong focus on the resurrection of the body, as opposed to some immaterial part of us surviving death. Why might this be important?

Mention to students that theologian N.T. Wright has described the resurrection as the “central engine” of Christianity, without which the “car” would completely lose function. Have students brainstorm other analogies for what Paul is claiming, discussing them briefly with a partner, and then sharing a few examples with the class.

The Absurdity of the Resurrection?

In Brief

This lesson attempts to raise students’ awareness of the controversial nature of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For reasons that often claim to be grounded in science, the most vocal opponents of Christianity argue that the resurrection is illogical and never happened.

Goals

The connection of resurrection to discussions about faith and science is introduced.

Students begin to reflect on how science relates to belief in the resurrection and on what science can help us know.

Thinking Ahead

The first activity focused on how central the resurrection is to the Christian faith: according to Paul, the whole structure of the gospel falls apart without it. This activity turns to some reasons why many do not accept this core claim of the Christian faith and, in doing so, draws us into consideration of faith and science, indicating that faith/science discussions are relevant to more than questions of origins.

As you prepare for this task, consider what the learning needs of your particular students might be. Are some of them be so accustomed to living in a strong faith community that they simply assume the resurrection makes sense to everyone and therefore need prompting to think through challenges from other perspectives? Or might students be bringing unarticulated doubts and concerns about this topic and seeking grounds for their own faith?

Consider your classroom practice: do you tend to be a teacher who likes to disrupt complacency or one who works at encouraging faith? How might your own tone and how it is communicated in words, posture, and body language impact different students? Teaching FASTly involves honest truth-seeking that affirms both faith and investigation.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Optional: Set up technology to project the suggested film clips

Teaching the Activity

Begin with some questions to engage students in initial reflection:

  • Is it easy or difficult to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Why?
  • Is there evidence for or against the resurrection?
  • How many of you personally know someone who has been raised from the dead? Is that relevant?

After brief discussion, tell students that in 2007 theologian N. T. Wright was invited to give a lecture under the title “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”. Ask: why would a title like this be chosen? Why was the title not “Can a teacher believe in the resurrection?” or “Can a businessman believe in the resurrection?” Why might the organizers have assumed that scientists in particular may have a hard time believing in the resurrection? What does this title tell us about how we see the relationship between science and faith? (It suggests that faith and science are seen as being in tension, and therefore that being a scientist makes it harder to have faith).

Allow some time for discussion. Ask further questions to help students begin to make some distinctions:

  • Would science ever lead us to expect the resurrection to happen?
  • What kinds of things is science best equipped to study?
  • Are scientific laws statements about what always happens on the basis of repeated observation, or do they legislate what can happen? Can natural science be used to study history?
  • How do our beliefs affect how we see the relationship of science to the resurrection? How might a materialist worldview where the only realities and possible events in the universe are those governed by material processes, or a theist worldview where there are realities beyond the material and God can act in his world, see the relationship differently?

There is no need to unpack these issues at great length at this point in this brief introduction. The purpose of this activity is to raise the questions and offer students lines of thinking to pursue in the material that follows. To check understanding, ask students to summarize briefly in writing how the question of the scope of science might be relevant to belief in the resurrection.

Optional: present a video showing the perspective of a skeptic presenting arguments against believing in the resurrection of Jesus. A short, general example that targets all miracles together and appeals to scientific laws as a reason for skepticism is here. Follow this with a video presenting the opposite view, such as here.

Discuss with students what kind of arguments are made by each person. For example, the first appeals to science, the second to other commonly recognized and reliable sources of information about the world. What kinds of evidence are most relevant to considering a claim that an event as utterly unique as the resurrection happened in history?

Delve Activities

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

  • Activity

    25 min

    Knowing About the Resurrection

  • Activity

    30 min

    The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 1

  • Activity

    30 min

    The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2

  • Activity

    45 min

    The Gospel Accounts

  • Activity

    35 min

    The Testimony of the Apostles

  • Activity

    HW + 30 minHomework

    Arguments for the Resurrection

Knowing About the Resurrection

In Brief

This activity engages students in considering how we know things and form beliefs in multiple ways. It aims to help students see how our way of knowing relates to the resurrection and the question of whether belief in the resurrection is scientific.

Goals

Students understand that different kinds of inquiry and evidence, scientific and non-scientific, are used to arrive at knowledge of different kinds of things.

Students understand the importance of testimony in knowing about unique historical events.

Thinking Ahead

This activity takes an indirect approach to  a common objection in online debates: the question of whether the resurrection is unscientific and in conflict with what we know from modern science. The activity seeks to add a little complexity to the question by introducing two key ideas.

First it asks students to consider the variety of ways we know things, some of which simply fall outside what the scientific method can address. The question of whether we should regard natural science as the best path to truth is a philosophical rather than a scientific question and not one that science itself is well suited to answer.

Second, the activity engages students in considering how we come to trust accounts of very unusual and once-only events. It looks at how our background beliefs and assumptions contribute to whether we find the testimony of others plausible.

This activity does not conclude that science has nothing to do with the resurrection. Science tells us what we have always known, that resurrection is not the kind of thing that normally happens. Rather the activity points out that science only offers one kind of question (could this occur naturally?) alongside other ways of seeking truth. Note that the goal of this activity is not to prove anything regarding the resurrection. It simply suggests some ways of critically examining the view that natural science is the only, or best, frame for thinking about whether people should believe in the resurrection. It points to the complexity of our ways of knowing. Teaching FASTly is about exploring the positive roles of both faith and science.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Begin by asking the students a series of seemingly random questions:

  • When were you born?
  • Who was the first king of Israel?
  • What did you have for breakfast this morning?
  • Where are we right now?
  • Is it ever right to steal?
  • Does the person next to you have hopes and dreams?

Use the slides in Knowing About The Resurrection. For each slide:

  • First present the question and have students answer to a partner.
  • Then reveal the examples of how we come to believe things and ask students how they arrived at answers (students may add other possibilities). These suggestions are intended to help discussion, not cover every possibility.
  • Then ask students whether the way they arrived at the answer was a reasonable way to arrive at an answer to this kind of question.
  • Finally ask whether the answer to this question could be verified using the methods of natural science. Are the other ways of finding things out less trustworthy? Note that in answering this question, students may suggest strategies that are not actually examples of natural scientific method, but sound scientific. Insist that students be reasonably precise in labeling something as natural science.

As a transition, ask students to consider what all of this might have to do with arguments about whether the resurrection could have happened, whether it is compatible with modern science, and whether we can be justified in believing in it. Mention this briefly to orient students to the topic, and then say that you are going to ask them to consider the question from another angle: how do we deal with highly unusual events?

Next narrate to students the following scenarios taken from the next slide, titled Can You Believe? in which they imagine themselves hearing about an unusual event:

  • A friend attends a local football game and tells you the next day that they witnessed the kicker, who you know to be a player of very limited ability, kicking a 60-yard field goal.
  • A family member calls you to the window. They say that they saw a kind of animal that you know does not live in your country or climate zone walking around in your back yard. By the time you look it is gone.
  • You read a social media post from someone who lives in a remote, dry, desert town in Australia, hundreds of miles from the coast. They report that yesterday a large number of living fish suddenly fell from the sky. Note: this is apparently a true story as seen here and here.

For each scenario, ask students to discuss:

  1. Would you believe the story? Why or why not?
  2. Is the imagined event possible? What could explain it actually happening?
  3. If you are doubtful, what might lead you to believe in the story?

Elicit that the decision whether to believe the accounts is going to depend on matters such as whether we can accept a picture of the world in which the event seems possible, whether the narrator seems a balanced and trustworthy person, and whether we can corroborate the story through evidence or the testimony of others.

Ask students how the stories of the resurrection are similar to, or different from, the examples just discussed.

  • Similarities may include: It is a highly unusual occurrence; we are dependent on the testimony of others and our inclination to trust them; we can’t do an experiment to prove what happened; our acceptance or doubt might depend on our wider beliefs about how the world works. For example, is there a God who acts in the world? If so, resurrection becomes more possible. Is there a zoo nearby from which animals often escape? The second story becomes more plausible.
  • A significant difference is that the three stories above can all be understood without going outside natural processes. For example, perhaps the kicker had a sudden tail wind; the animal could be an escaped exotic pet; the fish may have been picked up by a tornado. The resurrection seems even further outside the norm since it overcomes the normal processes of death and decay.

Finally, point out that science plays an important but limited role among a range of other ways of trying to find out the truth. Most science works by establishing what happens repeatedly when one set of material factors encounter another set of material factors. What are things it will not be good at examining? How can it adequately address unique events? Is the idea of a new creation breaking forth from the old, as Jesus’ resurrected and transfigured body broke forth from death, something that can be addressed using scientific method?

Science can tell us that the resurrection is not normal and that it goes against the way the material world functions. Which of the other ways of forming beliefs that we have been considering might apply to forming beliefs about God’s actions in history? Note that subsequent activities will explore how this relates to the views of early Christians.

To check understanding these distinctions make in how we know truth and their relevance, ask students to briefly summarize in a sentence or two each of the following: the roles of science, testimony, and background beliefs in weighing the plausibility of the resurrection.

The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 1

In Brief

This is the first of a pair of activities focusing on the beliefs of ancient Jews regarding what happens after death. It aims to help students see the context for the New Testament testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.

Goals

Students consider critically the view that prescientific people found it easier to believe in resurrection.

Students learn what view of the afterlife is presented in Old Testament texts.

Thinking Ahead

Critics who say that belief in the resurrection is unscientific often accompany their argument with the idea that ancient, pre-scientific people found it easier to believe in such things than we do. The suggestion is that religion was easier to believe in before science.

This is the first of two activities that look at what seem to have been the actual beliefs of the ancient Israelites about death and the afterlife. Students might assume that belief in resurrection from the dead must have always been the belief of people in Bible times, and that only recently, with the advent of modern science, did easy belief in people bodily living again after death start to wane.

This first activity allows students to discover that those who lived in early Bible times did not tend to think that people naturally came back from the dead, or even hold to a particularly clear or encouraging picture of what happens after death. The activity engages students in the important practice of testing their assumptions against the text.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Begin by eliciting students’ assumptions. Ask them what they think ancient Israelites believed about the afterlife. What do they think were the most frequent concepts of life after death in the Old Testament: heaven? hell? resurrection? the immortality of the soul?

Display a rendering of the cosmos as likely pictured by ancient Israelites (for example, here). Allow time for students to read Job 7:9, Psalm 89:48, and Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 and 9:1-12 before discussing what the Israelite writers seem to believe in these passages and what “Sheol” seems to be like. Where is there evidence of the picture of the world shown in the displayed rendering of the ancient cosmos? Encourage students to look at footnotes or other reference materials to find out about Sheol as a term for the grave or underworld, and a common destiny from which no one returned.

You could also have students look at a word cloud based on the most frequently occurring words in the Old Testament and see if they can find any terms relating to the afterlife. This will illustrate that the afterlife is not a major preoccupation of the Old Testament.

If you have time, allow students to explore the beliefs of neighboring ancient cultures by using further resources such as: an interactive process of preparing for the afterlife as an ancient Egyptian, an article on Mesopotamian beliefs about the afterlife, or an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet XI which narrates the futility of immortality for humans.

End in discussion, using it to check comprehension:

  • Which of Israel’s neighbors did Israel share most in common with regarding the afterlife?
  • Why did the Israelites believe that there was at best a shadowy kind of existence in the “grave” after death?
  • Is there much sign of a belief in the possibility that some individuals might be resurrected after their death? As an exception, point students to Daniel 12:2, noting that it seems to hope for a future general resurrection, but does not suggest that individuals might cheat death within the normal flow of history. Stress that this verse is unusual.
  • Why do we habitually think in terms of “heaven” and “hell”? How are they different from “the grave”?
  • What bearing does all of this have on the idea that prescientific people were more likely to believe in resurrection?

The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2

In Brief

This activity continues Activity 4: The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 1, by focusing on the deuterocanonical writings and the New Testament. It helps students to see the range of Israelite beliefs about the afterlife and resurrection and that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not anticipated by any of those beliefs.

Goals

Students critically consider the view that prescientific people found it easier to believe in resurrection.

Students learn what view of the afterlife is presented in deuterocanonical writings.

Thinking Ahead

This activity looks at the deuterocanonical writings and the New Testament in terms of beliefs about resurrection. It challenges students to see that ancient Israelites did not naïvely believe a dead individual would rise from death within history. Therefore easy acceptance of the claim that Jesus was resurrected would not be a reflection of existing pre-modern beliefs, but instead something very unusual. Openness to, and hope for, bodily life after death grew out of concrete historical circumstances of suffering, and remained disputed in Jesus’ day.

Depending on your school’s confessional context, you may wish to make explicit to students that the Apocryphal texts are not viewed by Protestant Christians as inspired Scripture, but are used here to provide a window into intertestamental thought on the resurrection, thought that was developing in a new direction out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament. You may wish to consider how to help students think about how beliefs develop over time within the writings that make up the Bible. For instance we see a gradual unfolding of God’s revelation within Scripture. The activity continues to engage students in the important practice of testing their assumptions against the evidence.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Bibles

Directions:

Display the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical texts on the screen with The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2, or in handouts The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2, for students who might not have these texts in their Bibles.

Teaching the Activity

Allow students time to read through two representative texts from the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical texts to illustrate the beliefs of Jews during the intertestamental period. The Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 and 2 Maccabees 7:7-9 are provided in The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2 handout or The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2 slides. Each of these passages shows hope in a bodily resurrection from the dead at some point in the future. Note the context of oppression and suffering. Discuss the questions provided at the end of the passages with students:

  • Where in these passages do you see a belief in a resurrection from the dead?
  • Who gets resurrected? Individuals at different times or all the righteous together?
  • When does it take place? At some point during history or at the end of present history?

Have students note that the hope expressed is for a future resurrection of all the righteous together at the end of present history; there is not an expectation here of any individual rising from the dead in the midst of history. Refer back to Daniel 12:2. See Activity 4: The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 1 for a similar emphasis, pointing out that Daniel is a late Old Testament text. Note also that the hope for resurrection is connected to the idea that justice will eventually be accomplished after oppression and suffering have been experienced even to the point of death. Resurrection is connected to the existence of a cosmic moral order. If death comes and nothing follows it, then injustice can have no final redress.

Next, have students read Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees in Matthew 12 from their Bible or in The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 2 handout and discuss the questions provided with the text:

  • What did the Sadducees believe about the resurrection?
  • Why do you think people arrived at different views?
  • What was Jesus’ own view, according to this passage?

Note that the Sadducees at the time of Jesus tended to be wealthy and conservative and sought peaceful accommodation with Rome. How might this influence their thoughts about resurrection, as compared to the previous texts?

Conclude with a review of the different positions that have been seen in Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament passages. What do we learn about the range of beliefs in Israel concerning the afterlife and resurrection? Did any of those beliefs offer grounds for expecting the claim that an individual would rise from the dead in the midst of Roman occupation of Israel? Make clear that first century Jews were not looking for that any more than we would; they knew that dead people remained dead until the end of history. The claim that Jesus had risen from the dead was not simply an expression of existing, pre-modern beliefs.

You may wish to draw a connection here back to the question in Activity 3: Knowing About the Resurrection of whether belief in the resurrection is a superstition overcome by modern science. There does not seem to be evidence that ancient people, any more than modern ones, expected dead people to rise after a few days; the claim that Jesus rose from the dead was as radical then as it is now.

If you have used Activity 4: The Bible and the Afterlife, Part 1 together with this activity, you may wish to test understanding by asking students to summarize the key developments in beliefs of the afterlife in the Old Testament and intertestamental periods.

The Gospel Accounts

In Brief

This activity engages students in examining the four Gospel writers’ stories of the resurrection of Jesus and considering whether the differences between them undermine their trustworthiness. It invites students to see the limits, as well as the irreplaceable value, of testimony.

Goals

Students learn about the existence and implications of differences between the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection.

Thinking Ahead

One objection to belief in the resurrection involves the observation that the four Gospel accounts have various discrepancies among them in the way they tell the story. If their eyewitness testimonies do not agree, perhaps they are not reliable. This activity challenges students to acknowledge the real differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in their resurrection accounts, and to recognize that such differences are entirely natural in narrative testimony even when it is clearly focused on real events.

This relates to the work in Activity 3: Knowing About the Resurrection on our different ways of forming beliefs. Testimony to things we have seen and experienced does not normally take the form of precise scientific description, yet that is not automatically a weakness, for scientific description is not usually the goal. We regularly count the kind of information that comes through testimony as reliable and true knowledge of the world. This is how we know about much of what happened in history and what is happening elsewhere now.

We can and do tell the truth about what we know in a variety of ways. It is possible that this activity will increase anxiety for some students, since it draws attention to difficulties in the resurrection accounts. Ultimately, however, it affirms the possibility of informed faith. Making this clear will involve keeping students focused at the start of the activity on the connections between what the different illustrations show about how we describe real events and what we see in the gospels.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Begin the class by telling students to pay attention. Then engage in a few minutes of informal interaction: straighten papers on your desk, make comments to the class and interact with a few individuals by asking them how their week is going, look out the window, write the topic on the board, turn on screen, etc. Try to act naturally. Then have students write down in a hundred words or less exactly what they saw you do since the start of the class. Tell them not to confer with others and emphasize the need for detail. After allowing a few minutes for writing, have them compare their accounts with a partner or a small group.

Have students note similarities as well as differences in their accounts. What did they all record? How do their accounts differ? Students should notice that no account is exactly the same as the next, yet they probably all agree on your main actions. Ask if any groups found that there were details that were only mentioned by one person in the group, or that particular words chosen by one person that cast things in a different light. Were there any facts that only one person in the class noted? This serves as preparation for considering the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection.

Students should be given time, either in class or ahead of time, to read each of the resurrection stories in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. As with the discussion of the teacher’s behavior, have students comment on the similarities and the differences between the four accounts using The Gospel Accounts. You can use this completed sheet to check students’ understanding.

Point out to students that when we are faced with multiple accounts such as these, we have some basic options. First, we can assume that if there are differences, it must mean some or all of them are wrong or made up. Or we can try to harmonize them into a single, seamless account. Or we can approach them as four witnesses to the same event that each narrate differently but are pointing to the same set of actual happenings, as with the class’ narratives of the teacher’s behavior or movie clip.

At this point bring up the question of audience. Ask students to work with a partner and spend two minutes telling their partner what they did over the weekend. Then have them switch partners and repeat the exercise, but this time imagine that their partner is a parent or grandparent, and focus on what they might say differently. Follow this with a brief class discussion. How does addressing a different audience lead us to include or omit different details or choose different emphases? How might this help us understand the differences between the four gospel accounts of the resurrection?

Finally, ask a student to read aloud his or her written account of the start of class from the first activity. When he or she has finished reading, deny that any of it happened, suggesting that perhaps he or she was hallucinating. Ask students to what degree they can “prove“ what happened; if they appeal to their multiple written accounts, point out that they are not identical and could be made up. Do not allow students to appeal to things that did not happen, for example, that they could have filmed you, but they didn’t. Keep this up until you feel that the point has been made that while testimony has limits, doubting it is not always the most rational response. Imprecise testimony is not proof, and the demand for proof can make it seem inadequate, yet it may still be trustworthy.

Conclude by giving students some time to write a reflective journal entry using this prompt:

  1. What are the core things that the four resurrection narratives are seeking to communicate? Why are they important?
  2. Do the differences between the narratives reduce their trustworthiness?

The Testimony of the Apostles

Thinking Ahead

One argument often put forth for placing confidence in early Christian accounts of the resurrection is the effect of the described events on the apostles. For a claim that flew in the face of experience, of their own initial doubts, and of orthodox Jewish belief, the apostles became willing to face rejection, persecution, and even death. Similar to the ancient Israelites’ views about the afterlife as explored in the previous lessons, early followers of Jesus were not expecting Jesus to bodily come back to life.

Many people throughout history have been willing to die in conflicts centering on their beliefs, but it is noteworthy that the apostles staked their lives on a brand new claim that went against the expectations of their fellow Jews. They did so not through violence toward others who were obstacles to their own group, but with willingness to be put to death by others rather than give up their testimony. This is not a cast-iron proof that they were right, but it does indicate that something powerful happened after the death of Jesus.

As you teach this activity, keep in mind the two-fold goal of helping students see more clearly the range of responses to the resurrection described in the New Testament, while engaging them in reflection about how much weight to place on the contradictory claims that the resurrection is unscientific or that it is historically compelling.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Begin with the question: if you were told that someone close to you who died had been raised back to life, would you believe the story? What do you think the range of initial reactions of Jesus’ disciples would have been to hearing this?

Split students up into small groups and assign one of the following passages to each group. Use Bibles, Testimony of the Apostles, or Testimony of the Apostles:

  • John 20:24-29, the story of Thomas’ doubt
  • Mark 16:1-8, the women fleeing terrified and telling no one
  • Matthew 28:16-17, some of the disciples who “still doubted” when they saw Jesus on the mountain in Galilee
  • Luke 24:9-12, the disciples thinking that the women’s words about the empty tomb were “nonsense”
  • John 20:1-10 for the varied reactions of Mary Magdalene, the “beloved disciple,” and Peter

Ask each group to record the reactions of the people in their passage, and then ask each group in turn to report back to the class. Gather their responses on the board as they do so. Students should eventually see that there were multiple reactions to Jesus’ resurrection.

Then have all students turn to Acts 2:14-41 and read Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Ask the class what Peter’s main point is in this sermon. What does he choose to emphasize at this key moment? How have the convictions of the apostles developed since the range of responses in the passages just read?

Finally, read Acts 12:1-5 and discuss the following questions with the class. If you have time or would like a homework activity, you could have students perform library or online research for accounts of how all the apostles died.

  • At this point what are the apostles willing to go through rather than back down over their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead?
  • What could explain such an unyielding commitment to a claim that goes against our consistent experience of how the world works, departs from what Israelite faith had taught about death, generated opposition and violence, and was initially received with uncertainty even by those who proclaimed it?

Finally, review the question in Activity 3: Knowing the Resurrection about different ways that we form and ground beliefs. Explore briefly some of the kinds of investigation that are commonly invoked in debates about the resurrection:

Some argue that a key question about the resurrection is whether it is scientifically possible.

  • What does science tell us about the likelihood of dead people coming back to life?
  • Did the apostles also believe that dead people stay dead? Would the scientific conclusion have surprised them?
  • What scientific investigation could we undertake to find out whether the apostles in fact experienced what they said they did? Can we repeat the event or examine the evidence under controlled conditions? How would an investigation into material causes provide an explanation for a non-material actor? Could science ever provide a completely adequate account of such activity? Does science ever offer a completely exhaustive and adequate account of anything?

In many areas of life, we regularly and effectively lean on methods of testing the trustworthiness of personal testimony and historical events.

  • What do the gospels claim about what the apostles experienced following the death of Jesus?
  • What were the consequences for the apostles of claiming what they did about the resurrection?
  • Does their confidence in the face of persecution offer historical evidence that in fact something very unusual happened to bring about these changes?
  • Is there any way around the basic question of whether or not we trust their testimony?

Arguments for the Resurrection

In Brief

This activity allows students to engage in more detail with some of the key arguments advanced in favor of the resurrection and to consider the kinds of knowledge from which they draw.

Goals

Students examine the kinds of argument and evidence put forward by scholars who defend belief in the resurrection.

Students review the roles of scientific and non-scientific forms of evidence in weighing belief in the resurrection.

Thinking Ahead

As students ponder and evaluate additional arguments in favor of the resurrection of Jesus, they will be challenged again to consider the differences between historical arguments, testimony, faith-based knowledge, and scientific knowledge. The John Polkinghorne reading offers the perspective of an eminent scientist who is also a believer. The N. T. Wright reading is from a leading theologian and New Testament historian. The Stephen Davis reading focuses on apologetics.

Note that the goal of the activity is not just for students to understand the argument being offered, but also to think about the basis on which they are made. What kinds of investigation are most appropriate to the matter at hand? Consider also the lessons to be learned as students interact around the arguments presented.

Think about how you can help students to focus not only on the content of the readings, but also on helping each other understand clearly and listen respectfully to one another’s views. Teaching FASTly is not just about the content learned, but also about the virtues exercised and formed as we interact around the content. This activity can provide an opportunity to practice respectful and careful interaction around a matter that can provoke impatient debates.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Divide students into three groups and assign one of the readings below to each group for homework in preparation for class. Each student should complete Arguments for the Resurrection 1 in preparation for class. Warn students that they will be responsible for presenting a summary of what they have read and that this will be the basis for other students to learn.

Readings:

In class, after the readings have been completed, have students form groups of three in which they have each read a different essay. A convenient way of doing this is to give a number—1,2,3—to the group that read each essay and then instruct students to form groups containing a number 1, 2, and 3. Remind students that they are serving each other’s learning process. Instruct students to ask for questions and to make sure their explanation has been clear and helpful when they have presented their article. Give time for each member to report to the rest of their new group what they learned from their article.

After there has been time to share the gathered information, have the groups discuss the following questions. As you set up the discussion, remind the students to focus on listening well and interacting respectfully with each other:

  • Is it rationally defensible after the development of modern science to believe in the resurrection? 
  • Are there other forms of evidence that we regularly rely upon that are relevant to this case?
  • What are the most compelling arguments in favor of believing in the resurrection?
  • What difference does it make whether or not we believe in the resurrection?

Finally, give some time for each student to individually and silently write a reflective journal on what specifically they have learned from the articles and from listening to the other members of their group. Ask them to name the key arguments they have encountered and reflect on their value. You can use this to check comprehension, but avoid grading students based on their beliefs.

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

  • Activity

    45 min

    “Who do YOU say that I am?”

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

In Brief

This concluding activity offers writing tasks that give students an opportunity to draw together what they have learned and respond personally. It both tests understanding of the material explored and allows students to express how they see the resurrection in light of what they have learned.

Goals

Students respond to what they have learned about the resurrection in a more extended piece of writing, demonstrating their grasp of the material studied in previous activities and also articulating a personal response.

Thinking Ahead

This activity map has sought to engage students in understanding the faith-informed reasoning that thoughtful Christians use to defend the rationality of belief in the resurrection. It has also looked at the relevance of natural science to considering the possibility of the resurrection, suggesting that natural science has a very limited ability to investigate possible actions of a non-material God acting upon the natural world.

This final writing activity creates an opportunity for you to assess the clarity of students’ understanding of the issues. It is, however, also important to create space for students to respond personally. This part of the assignment is a chance for students to express their own convictions and should not be assessed against a correct answer.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Students should have materials needed to write/type/record their thoughts on the resurrection of Jesus

Teaching the Activity

Alternative 1:

Have students write a short essay in class or at home that responds to all of the following prompts:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the view that modern science makes it hard to believe in the resurrection?
  • What are the main reasons why many highly educated people still believe in the resurrection?
  • What kinds of evidence are most relevant in this debate?
  • Which arguments do you personally find most persuasive?
  • Why does the question matter?

Alternative 2:

Have students choose a biblical character who responded to the resurrection. Do they, for instance, identify readily with John, who went into the empty tomb and believed? Do they see themselves as Thomas, eventually believing but needing to first overcome a certain amount of skepticism? Can they imagine themselves as Peter, confidently preaching to the crowd at Pentecost? Or possibly do they understand the reaction of the women at the end of Mark who flee Jesus’ empty tomb terrified, not knowing what to think? Ask students to write a reflection on the resurrection, what it means, and how they think about it, from the point of view of that Bible character, showing an awareness of the historical and theological context.

Alternative 3:

Have students write a dialogue between a believer and a skeptic focused on whether it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection. Ask them to conclude with a personal reflection on which side of the argument they found easier to write and why.