If the Bible has an ancient understanding of nature (e.g., a 3-tier universe with a flat earth), then how can we trust Scripture with regard to the physical resurrection of Jesus? Maybe this is just another ancient idea. This is a question that often arises in my introductory course on Science and Religion.
The key to answering this question is found in recognizing and respecting what I term the “scope of cognitive competence” of ancient people. For example, were the biblical authors and their readers competent to know that galaxies existed? No, because they did not have the powerful telescopes that we do today. This is not to disrespect the ancients, but they had a much narrower field of understanding compared to us. Or to use an example from Jesus, think about the Mustard Seed Parable in Mark 4:30-32. The Lord stated that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Of course, His listeners did not have microscopes like we do to understand that some orchid seeds are the size of bacteria.
But now consider Jesus’s first miracle at a wedding in Cana, as described in John 2:1-11. Did ancient people have the intellectual tools to know that the Lord changed water to wine? Yes. Or consider when Jesus healed a paralytic man in Mark 2:1-12. Was it within the scope of cognitive competence of the paralytic man and everyone around him to know that Jesus had miraculously cured him of his paralysis? Yes.
Let’s return to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. During his day, there were numerous crucifixions and most people would have witnessed some of these barbaric executions. They knew that when a crucified individual had quit breathing and his body became cold and stiff, that person had died. Ancient people would also have known that dead people do not come back to life again.
However, three days after the death of Jesus on the Cross, many people discovered that he was alive. Matthew 28:9 records that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary met the Lord and that they “clasped his feet and worshipped him.” Luke 24:36-39 states that Jesus appeared to his disciples and said to them, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Later the disciples even gave the Lord “a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (v. 42-43).
We can again ask the question: Was it within the cognitive limits of these ancient these women and men to know that Jesus had physically died and then physically rose from the dead? My answer is an absolute “YES!!!” It was well within the scope of cognitive competence of these ancient people to know that Jesus Christ had definitely been raised from the grave. And He lives today! Amen.