Can you be a Christian without believing in the resurrection?

So I am looking forward to BioLogos’ upcoming series on defending the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection is probably the main issue which I have with Christianity, and why I currently reject the New Testament. I’d also be willing to overlook all the other errors if I had confirmation of this. But before BioLogos does this, I would like to ask, why is it fundamental for a Christian to believe in the resurrection of Christ? And can one be a Christian without this belief?

For the simple reason that from day one that is the message the apostles preached. In the first sermon recorded:

Acts 2:22-24
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

I don’t like to judge who can and cannot be a Christian, but I don’t see how. You would have to throw out most of the NT and a big chunk of what Jesus is recorded as saying.


It would seem to me that the Council of Nicaea already dealt with this topic in 325 AD, and they came down firmly in the resurrection camp. I guess it depends on how you view the authority of the Council of Nicaea, but I think it would be safe to say that even the early church fathers saw the resurrection as a required belief.


The whole premise of Christianity is based on the resurrection (Jesus atoning for our sins); if the resurrection is untrue then Christianity has no foundation - I think this is unequivocal.



The Bible clearly teaches the importance of resurrection. I take the traditional view of the Church concerning the resurrection; however, since time and eternity are not the same, e.g., United Methodists believe that Jesus literally rose from the grave in a physical body, but they believe based on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and II Corinthians 5:1 that we as Christians are raised in a spiritual body at the moment of death. This view was formulated by the Rev. W.D. Davies of Duke University School of Divinity. He also believed that these people are hidden from us in heaven until the Second Coming. They will return to earth in their resurrection bodies already raised. This is based on Colossians 3: 1-4. When my father went to heaven in 1985, I believed this view; however, later studies forced me to change my mind. I now believe that we are a dichotomy of body and spirit (1 Samuel 28). The body in the grave will be reunited with the spirit to reform the human soul (Genesis 2:7) or living being in the New International Version Bible. If you have any questions, please be sure to ask. I am a theologian and was elected by the Virginia Conference as a local pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have since that time returned to the Baptists. I am sixty-two and now retired. I failed to mention that in the Apocrypha there is a book called the Wisdom of Solomon, not written by King Solomon but by a Jew who was influenced by the Greeks. It teaches the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection. If you are interested, I recommend that you purchase a New International Version produced by the Roman Catholic Church. I would read Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9. Oh, the immortality of the soul comes mostly from Plato. I would like to add two Old Testament Scriptures that support the resurrection of a physical body. Those would be Daniel 12:2 and Isaiah 26:19. If you have a Bible with the Old Testament Apocrypha, you will find it in 2 Maccabees 7:9-14. One must believe in the resurrection of the dead to be orthodox in one’s theology. Without the New Testament and the physical resurrection of Jesus, there is no eternal life. Liberal Baptist minister Harry Emerson Fosdick believed only in the immortality of the soul; however, I doubt that heaven will be his eternal home. In other words, one must believe in the resurrection to be a true Christian. I will keep you in my prayers. You need them.

Two questions here Reggie

  1. It’s not so much that one must believe in some weird thing in order to join a club. I’d actual reframe your question to: why is the resurrection of Jesus so foundational to the movement he founded? My ans (at least in part) would be to point to what the resurrection of Jesus does. In his resurrection, Jesus conquered death. And as he conquered death, so will his followers be raised from the grave to life eternal. Read N. T. Wright’s big book Resurrection of the Son of God if you want to get a complete picture.

  2. I’d say you can’t be an orthodox (in the sense of being in step with historical Christianity) without believing in a physically raised Jesus.

why did Christianity begin, and why did it take the shape it did? To answer this question – which any historian must face – renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright focuses on the key points: what precisely happened at Easter? What did the early Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? What can be said today about his belief?


@Reggie_O_Donoghue have you read the Gospel of Luke and Acts yet? What do you think of Jesus?

I’ll give my opinions:

Q: [W]hy is it fundamental for a Christian to believe in the resurrection of Christ?

A: It is fundamental because it is the ultimate demonstration that Christ’s finished work defeated death. An empty tomb would have been insufficient. The women who first went to the tomb simply thought the body had been moved. That is what everyone would have presumed.

Q: And can one be a Christian without this belief?

A: No.

I get the impression that the answer is NO!

But is it possible to believe in the ‘concept’ of a resurrection without necessarily believing it as literal truth?

Just out of curiosity, what would be the reluctance for a Christian to accept it as the literal truth?

Lack of evidence

That applies to all the miracles. So why not start with the mother of all miracles, the fact the we believe that God created a universe with about a mole of stars just in the visible region? By comparison, the routine miracles are arguably minor. (Maybe some disagree.) So why not ask: “Can you be a Christian and not believe that God created the universe?”

To me it makes no sense to accept that God created the universe (without evidence) and quibble about walking on water, parting seas, and reanimation (without evidence).


I can understand that position and I’m sympathetic to it but there are other factors to suggest the distinctions could be real. For example, one could be skeptical about the recounting of walking on water, parting seas and reanimation but be convinced that the various philosophical arguments that seek to link the origin of the universe to a first cause called, God.

It seems that people legitimately quibble about whether Jonah was really swallowed by a whale, that the sun really did stop in place, or that the overwhelming majority of humans were at one time wiped out by a global flood. So yes, I can understand why people might quibble about other seemingly miraculous events. Whether one needs to believe in a particular miracle, “X” to be a ‘legitimate’ Christian could be another matter, but I won’t touch that subject.

Note that the Catholic church at least, has set some criteria for formal identification of miracles.

I think it depends on how you define “Christian”…

If it’s merely a social and cultural category, then sure, I guess…


The NT provides ample evidence that Jesus’ disciples had a concept of the resurrection that satisfied them as literal truth. However, the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body was not always made so evident to them. Jesus’ resurrected body was immaterial to the extent that it could pass through a locked door, and yet material enough so that Doubting Thomas could feel the nail holes in Jesus’ hands. This seeming dichotomy is something that their knowledge of natural phenomena could not explain–and our greater knowledge still cannot. But their belief that it was literal truth was important enough to die for, even if not fully explainable. IMHO as a scientist of very modest ability, I am content to consider myself a Christian even though my science comes up short at times. After all, even Einstein could not bring himself to believe in the “ghostly action-at-a-distance” that Quantum Theory now accepts as literal truth.
Al Leo

Of course that is “possible”. People believe all sorts of things =).

The real question is more focused. Look at Jesus. Do you believe he was the Son of God, the Son of Man, the way God reveals Himself to the world? Could this God raise Jesus from the dead? Did He raise Jesus from the dead? Where does the evidence point you? Do you trust the testimony? Do you trust Him?

There is a lot of evidence. Here is my take:

But listen to Gary Habermas talk about the minimal facts approach:

NT Wright takes a historian’s perspective:

The thing is that there is just a massive amount of evidence, much more than ancient near eastern literature. Its almost as if an intelligence beyond our time is revealing Himself to us in history.

The Resurrection is quite a bit like evolution. We have to be careful about misidentifying our personal ignorance of evidence as lack of evidence all together. The two are not the same thing. There is a lot of evidence for evolution, just as there is a lot of evidence for the Resurrection.

We could talk about evidence, but even if he rose from the dead, that might not be enough for some. Even if Jesus was God’s messenger, was He good? What message did he bring?

Tell me, what do you think of Jesus? Have you had a chance to look at him yet? He is beautiful. He is good.

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@Reggie_O_Donoghue is asking a very interesting metaphysical question:

Christianity is based on the idea that if you believe Jesus was literally raised from the Dead …
then your sinful nature is redeemed, and you will be resurrected at the end of days (or, at the least, will be consciously enjoying an afterlife while waiting for the End of Days).

Islam, which invests quite a bit of the Quran on the history and life of Jesus and his mother, recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, but sees resurrection of the afterlife as not requiring a belief that Jesus was resurrected.

Mormonism, which is a form of Universalism, teaches that all humanity will go to one of three possible Heavens. Thus there is no requirement to actually believe in a resurrected Christ to accomplish the desired end.

And before there was Jesus, there was a form of messianic-style of Judaism that believed in the sanctification of humans (think transfiguration) without any martyr required to make it happen.

No doubt there are some who think it rather odd that the metaphysical machinery of the cosmos can only work if a person believes in a particular legendary event - - which might be likened to the idea that a nuclear reaction can only happen if enough humans believe in the existence of electrons.

Zoroastrians also believed in a resurrected afterlife … without requiring anyone to believe in the resurrection of any particular individual.

Perhaps the oldest of all resurrection cults is the original Egyptian cult of Osiris! Pharaoh, and any aspiring Egyptian who could afford some sort of bodily preparation, thought an eternal afterlife was the natural result of being tested by the pantheon of Gods that defended Maat:

"The earliest surviving records indicating that Maat is the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next, were recorded during the Old Kingdom, the earliest substantial surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE). Later, as a goddess in other traditions of the Egyptian pantheon, where most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth, as their attributes are similar. "

That’s not really quite the point.

The resurrection exonerates and reveals Jesus as Messiah (in spite of the crucifixion, which would, for many reasons, disqualify Jesus as Messiah). What matters is that the Messiah was crucified, which has huge implications for the nature of God’s work in creation, the depth of his love, etc.

The further implication was that the Messianic Age had arrived, earlier than expected, and so we are now living in a kind of “eschatological overlap.”


The Egyptians didn’t need anyone to die for a properly prepared Egyptian to enter immortality.

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That is a good historical statement; however, that was a different religion. However, this is still a good answer.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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