Emmanuel Krescenc Liska- Cain (1885)
Deceivers, deceived or speaking the truth?
How would you respond to former famous atheist turned deist philosopher Anthony Flew who claimed “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”?
- Changed lives
- Hypothesis testing
- Criteria of authenticity
- Did Jesus exist?
- Was Jesus crucified?
- Minimalist or maximalist?
- Minimal facts
- Core facts
- Maximalist approach
- Alternative explanations
- Testing the resurrection hypothesis
- Divine self understanding of Jesus
- Was Jesus a copycat pagan god saviour?
- Miracles can’t happen no matter what
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
- Seek and you will find
- Relational wounds are healed relationally
Simon Bar Kokbha: Arthur Svyk
Simon Bar Kokhba was believed to be the Messiah in the 2nd century. He was, like Jesus, killed by the Romans, yet, unlike Jesus, his followers felt bitter and betrayed until they died. Caesar Augustus was considered the Son of God or Divi Filius and had infinitely more political and military power than Jesus demonstrated while on earth. Why are few people following Simon Bar Kokbha or Caesar Augustus today?
When death comes knocking will you look back on your life thinking you spent enough time forming and confirming your view on the most influential figure in history and his followers?
DECEIVERS, DECEIVED OR SPEAKING THE TRUTH
Were the followers of Jesus intentionally deceiving people with a story they made up? Were they merely deceived themselves into spreading falsehood? Were they speaking the truth about what took place and right in risking their lives?
Andre Jacques Victor Orsel
In our last article we looked at the type of suffering early Christians endured for their beliefs. We mentioned that the suffering of early Christians is also attested by Shepherd of Hermas, Melito of Sardis, Dionysius of Corinth, Hegesippus, Eusebius, Polycrates Bishop of Ephesus, Pliny, Josephus, Tacitus and so forth. Martyrdom indicates sincerity of belief and teachings but it does not necessarily mean what you teach or believe is true (countless people have died on opposite sides of history).
How does the resurrection of Jesus stack up against a historical investigation? What is the best explanation of the facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth? Are there even any facts accepted by historians regarding Jesus?
Investigating the facts surrounding the resurrection has led to many sceptical lives being transformed with the love of Christ over the years but why?
Frank Morrison, set out to write Jesus- the Last Phase to disprove Christianity and expose the myth behind the resurrection, yet, ended up becoming a Christian writing Who Moved the Stone?
Lee Strobel, was a sceptic and investigative journalist who set out to explore the facts around Christianity after his wife’s conversion. After a long and intense investigation, he became a Christian at age 29 and wrote many subsequent books including the Case for Christ, Case for Easter and the Case for Faith.
Chuck Colson was an attorney and political advisor to President Richard Nixon. He was involved in the Watergate scandal and served a prison sentence. After leaving office, Colson converted to Christianity. He started Prison Fellowship which was intended to reach prisoners with the good news of Jesus. After investigating the resurrection, Colson exclaimed, “Can anyone believe that for fifty years that Jesus’ disciples were willing to be ostracized, beaten, persecuted, and all but one of them suffer a martyr’s death–without ever renouncing their conviction that they had seen Jesus bodily resurrected? Does anyone really think the disciples could have maintained a lie all that time under that kind of pressure? No, someone would have cracked, just as we did so easily in Watergate. Someone would have acted as John Dean did and turned state’s evidence. There would have been some kind of smoking gun, or a deathbed confession. So why didn’t they crack? Because they had come face to face with the living God. They could not deny what they had seen. The fact is that people will give their lives for what they believe is true, but they will never give their lives for what they know is a lie. The Watergate cover-up proves that 12 powerful men in modern America couldn’t keep a lie–and that 12 powerless men 2,000 years ago couldn’t have been telling anything but the truth.”
Chuck Colson Christianity Today
Testing the validity of a claim about history is different from testing certain scientific claims. You can test certain scientific claims in a lab, while others are merely theories about the past which best explain the available data at a point in time. In his book, Justifying Historical Descriptions, the historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for a given body of historical facts:
- Explanatory Scope: best explanation will explain the most amount of data compared to the alternative explanations.
- Explanatory Power: best explanation explains the data most effectively.
- Plausibility: implied by what is already known about a figure.
- Not ad hoc: best explanation will involve few new assumptions about the world
- In accord with accepted beliefs: the best explanation aligns well with what is already known to be true about a figure
- Comparative Superiority: the best explanation far outstrips any rival hypothesis in meeting criteria 1–5.
We will argue if God exists and Jesus had a divine self understanding, the resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation of the available facts determined by applying historical criteria. Alternative explanations do not explain all of the relevant facts or meet the requirements for a hypothesis to be a plausible explanation and as such Christians don’t have to doubt their faith in Jesus rising from the dead. It is not inconsistent with the various trails of historical evidence left behind. Alternative theories are inconsistent with the evidence left behind as a whole.
CRITERIA OF AUTHENTICITY
Scholars such as Robert Stein and Stanley Porter have discussed at length criteria of authenticity in ascertaining historical events regarding Jesus’ life. For a more detailed list of these criteria please read the work of Porter or Stein.
There are key historical criteria which will assist us in our investigation.
- Embarrassment: information which is embarrassing to an author is more likely to be true or historically valid
- Multiple attestation: when an event is attested or supported by numerous sources it is more likely to be true than if it just comes from one (this is not to say something attested by one source is always false).
- Dissimilarity: when content is different to cultural or societal expectations it is less likely to have been concocted
- Historical congruence: when details of events described are in line with known historical facts, people, places of a time the writings are more likely to contain historically valid information
- Enemy attestation: when a fact is attested by an opponent of the author it is more likely to be true
DID JESUS EXIST?
Early Roman graffiti (Alexamenos) likens Jesus to a donkey who received honour
Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Mike Licona in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus point out we have 42 sources referring to Jesus within 150 years broken down as follows:
Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Celsus (Roman philosopher and critic of Christianity), Lucian (Greek satirist), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Thallus (Roman historian) and Suetonius (Roman historian)
Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John and Treatise of Resurrection
Early Christian writings/ writers outside the NT:
Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter and Epistula Apostolorum
Traditional NT authors:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, author of Hebrews, James, Peter and Jude
Rudolph Bultman, despite believing the Gospels were full of myths, claimed, “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.”
Famous skeptic Bart Ehrman echoes these words, “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.” He argues Christ mythers are simply making themselves look silly and intellectually dishonest in denying Christ’s existence.
WAS JESUS CRUCIFIED?
We have over a dozen historical sources of accounts on the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (Bancarz and Peck 2018):
- Pre-Mark Passion Narrative
- Hypothetical Gospel Q
- 1 Peter 2:24
- Clement of Rome
- Justin Martyr
- Flavius Josephus
- Cornelius Tacitus
- Mara Bar Serapion
Non Christian NT professor, Gerd Lüdemann writes in the Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.”
Famous sceptic and Jesus Seminar scholar, John-Dominic Crossan, contends in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, “That [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”
Meanwhile Bart Ehrman claims in The Historical Jesus: Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pilate is “one of the most certain facts of history”.
Please note this contradicts the Quran which over 500 years after Christ’s death in Surah Nisa 4:157 claims “they had neither slain him nor crucified him but the matter was made dubious to them”.
MINIMALIST OR MAXIMALIST?
Approaches to defending the resurrection tend to range from minimalist to maximalist approaches. There are pros and cons to various approaches, however, in this article we will outline 3 of the key approaches to give you perspective. These include a minimalist, core facts and maximalist approach.
The minimal facts approach is able to bypass the Gospels altogether. The core facts approach is built on a select few facts assessed as historically reliable within the Gospels without making a case for overall Gospel reliability. Meanwhile, the maximalist approach strongly benefits from a case on overall Gospel reliability. Perhaps we can view the three approaches as offering different layers to an overall compelling case. It’s a question of starting where you’re at.
When you’re in the room next door all that might be needed for you to walk towards the kitchen and assessing more evidence is the slight sound of something crackling in the oven. Does this mean you’ll know what is cooking and how warm the food is? No, but it offers the first layer of evidence for you to know something is going on in the oven. In a similar fashion, the more minimalist approaches try and start with where someone is at to realise there was something worth considering to the disciples’ claim about Jesus’ resurrection but don’t provide a basis for all the necessary counsel from the Gospels to be a pastor.
Image: Ossuary which some scholars argue is the martyred brother of Jesus Royal Ontario
(A) MINIMAL FACTS APPROACH
In The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona include 4+1 minimal facts which are best explained by Jesus being raised from the dead supernaturally.
- Jesus died by crucifixion (Greek and Roman sources)
- Disciples claimed to have post mortem appearances of Jesus (eg. Paul, Clement of Rome, Polycarp who personally knew the apostles)
- Paul was suddenly changed (biased against Jesus yet changed, attested by Clement of Rome)
- James was suddenly changed (biased against Jesus yet changed, attested by Hegesippus and Josephus)
+1 The tomb was empty (early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 accepted by highly sceptical non Christian scholars)
Source Cerebral Faith
The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 is believed even by highly sceptical non Christian scholars to have arisen within 5 years of Jesus’ death. The creed mentions Jesus appearing to 500 people, to James, to Paul, after Jesus dying, being buried and rising on the third day.
From this, we can make a case for the historicity of the empty tomb from early sources. NT critic Gerd Lüdemann argues the “elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus” while Jesus Seminar scholar and critic Robert Funk contended “the time for development was two to three years at most.” More in our other article on this.
Licona contends a strong case can be made from the first three facts alone. Bart Ehrman agrees with fact 2 with complete certainty exclaiming, “We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that… he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 230–231).
(B) CORE FACTS APPROACH
William Lane Craig Reasonable Faith
A core facts approach has commonly been used in debates by the most prominent apologist of our time, Dr. William Lane Craig. Craig has also written on the reliability of the Gospels but tends to take a more focused approach in his debates which draws on several core facts established from the Gospels and 1 Corinthians using the historical criteria of authenticity. This differs from the approach of Licona and Habermas who made a minimal facts case based on data outside the Gospels. Craig argues the minimal facts approach doesn’t make as strong a case for physical appearances of Jesus as the core facts approach does.
According to Craig: There are four facts agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars today who have written on this subject and which any adequate historical hypothesis must account for:
1. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb
2. The discovery of his empty tomb by his women followers
3. His post-mortem appearances to various individuals and groups
4. The very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
Craig notes regarding fact 1 or the burial of Jesus there is early attestation for Jesus’ burial in 1 Cor 15:3–8 and Mark, Joseph of Arimathea was part of the Sanhedrin which condemned Jesus meaning this fact would be embarrassing to make up and no competing burial story exists.
Regarding fact 2 or the discovery of the empty tomb by women followers, Craig refers to the criterion of embarrassment in that first century Jewish female testimony was not considered reliable meaning this was unlikely to have been a fictional addition to the Gospels. Furthermore, the empty tomb is attested by Jewish enemies of Jesus in Matt. 28:15. Interestingly, 2nd century opponent of Christianity, Celsus, in his writings against Christianity also admits the tomb was empty as does 3rd century philosopher Porphyry.
Regarding fact 3 or the post mortem appearances, Craig refers to the early attestation in 1 Cor. 15:3–8 and the multiple independent attestations of these appearances through the Gospels.
As for fact 4 or the origin of the disciples belief in the resurrection, Craig appeals to dissimilarity as Jews would not have honoured a dead and defeated false Messiah. Under Deutoronomy 21:23, Jesus was a cursed criminal by dying on a tree and Jews did not believe anyone would rise to immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.
( C ) MAXIMALIST APPROACH
Although Jesus lived on the fringes of Roman society, we have four main sources about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) which is as many as we have on the most prominent figure of his time, Emperor Tiberius. Moreover, our earliest copies of texts on Emperor Tiberius are substantially later (by around 500 years plus) than our earliest copies of texts on Jesus which are also far more numerous (Williams, 2018).
Dr. Tim McGrew provides five lines of evidence that Jesus is ALIVE:
A Appearances to his followers (1 Cor 15, Mt 28, Lk 24, Jn 20–21, Acts 1, Josephus etc)
L Low status of women in first century Judaism (embarrassment; Mt 28,Mk 16, Lk 24,Jn 20)
I Immediate proclamation of the resurrection in Jerusalem (Acts 2 you would go elsewhere or wait some time if starting a lie)
V Voluntary sufferings undergone by the first witnesses (Acts, Josephus, Tacitus etc)
E Empty tomb (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, Jn 20, 1 Cor 15 etc).
Erik Manning has popularised some of McGrew’s work, including that of Tim’s wife Lydia. His website is:
Inspiring Philosophy’s Michael Jones, has used a similar acronym HE LIVES in his exceptional seven part video series on the resurrection.
He appeared to them alive
Expectation of the Gospel to the surrounding world
Low status of women in the ancient world
Immediate proclamation in Jerusalem (you would go elsewhere or wait some time before starting a lie)
Voluntary suffering of the disciples and witnesses
Skeptics reported Jesus appeared to them
Some argue the Shroud of Turin was the burial cloth of Jesus
The maximalist approach does emphasise the importance of the general historical reliability of the Gospels and Acts, strengthening the maximalist case. In order to argue for the general reliability of the Gospels and Acts, maximalists make the following types of arguments:
- Undesigned coincidences. Undesigned coincidences occur when two different accounts have separate details which fit like a hand in a glove to each other. Peter Williams covers many examples as did William Paley several centuries ago. Regarding the feeding of the five thousand, Mark says that there was “green grass” (Mark 6:39), while John says there was “much grass” (John 6:10). Why is this relevant? Mark 6:31 says there were many people approaching. Why? John says the Passover was approaching (John 6:4). The timing of the Passover in March/ April explains the green grass and the large numbers travelling at that time of the year yet this is information we get only by combining the two accounts.
- Names. People in the Gospels had names which were common in first century second temple Judaism as per Richard Bauckham (eg. Eleazar, Simon, Joseph, Yohanan, Judah etc).
- Excessive non theological verbiage (the Gospels contain a lot of non theological language which is unlikely to be the case if they were later theological embellishments)
- The 84 historical facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts, including port names, slang terms, local industries for specific areas, geographical boundaries, specific designations for rulers in different geographic regions etc. as confirmed by historian Colin Hermer.
- The 59 confirmed or historically probable facts in the gospel of John as noted by Craig Bloomberg or the 41 remarkably precise historical facts in the New Testament as outlined by William Paley, along with countless other facts outlined by historians, who in some cases such as that of Nathaniel Lardner have produced over 10 volumes outlining historical facts.
- The geographical precision of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John compared to dismissed gospels such as Thomas and Judas indicates Thomas and Judas were later embellishments. In an era where Google maps did not exist, The Gospel of Thomas mentions Judaea once but no other location. The Gospel of Judas names no locations. The Gospel of Philip names Jerusalem ( four times), Nazara/ Nazareth (once) and the Jordan (once). Meanwhile Matthew refers to 90 places (towns, regions, bodies of water, other places etc), Mark 60, Luke 99 and John 76 (for more read Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter J Williams).
Shroud of Turin
With all these facts in mind, what is the best explanation? Did God raise Jesus from the dead or did something else happen? There are a number of alternatives people have proposed.
Swoon Theory (Jesus didn’t really die and was able to push himself out of the tomb): The Romans were highly skilled executioners. Take a look at the photo below. To think someone could come out of this while tricking people they had risen to immortality with a glorified body is implausible. Why would the disciples be willing to die for their belief decades later that Jesus had risen to a glorified body when Jesus would have “died again” by then anyway?
Image: Crucified First Century Heel Bone Times of Israel
Conspiracy Disciples stole the body: This was an early explanation of non believers for the empty tomb. For the disciples to be willing to steal the body they would have wanted to gain something from spreading a lie. Did they gain money, sex or power? NT Wright points out how conspiracies tend to involve self interest such as greed, lust or power yet we don’t see that here. They only lost in a worldly sense- losing their own heads. This also does little to explain the transformation of heavily biassed sceptics such as Paul and James nor why people would die for a lie they made up.
Romans took the body and threw it to dogs: This might explain the empty tomb. However, it does little to explain the origin of the disciples belief or the transformation of sceptics. It also makes no sense if the religious and political elite wanted to end Christianity why they wouldn’t have made a scene of this.
Hallucinations: Hallucinations don’t explain the empty tomb. Moreover, hallucinations tend to be individualistic experiences. Hallucinations tend to take place in response to expectations. The disciples had every reason to be downtrodden, they were not expecting a risen Lord nor were the sceptics who opposed Christianity. They had no theological expectation for Jesus to rise from the dead as they embarrassingly admitted themselves. Note, the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 references 500 witnesses. Moreover as psychiatrist Joseph Bergeron notes, “Psychiatric hypotheses for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection are found to be inconsistent with current medical understanding and do not offer plausible explanations for the biblical story of Easter.”
Spiritual resurrection: A spiritual resurrection does not explain the empty tomb, the mass conversions (addressed in hallucination point) or willingness of Jews to die for their faith. The disciples were Jews who had no concept of a spiritual only resurrection. They only knew of a resurrection of the dead at the end of time which led to transformed bodies. Are we to believe people would die for a spiritual resurrection of Jesus meanwhile Simon Bar Kokbha’s followers turned on him right after his death? Some refer to the spiritual body of 1 Cor 15 but ignore the context that this involves the current perishable body being changed into an imperishable body (1 Cor 15:51–53).
This is consistent with the bodily Jewish view of resurrection you would have expected Paul to have (Dan. 12:1–2 etc) as well as the treatment of terms such as flesh and spirit elsewhere in the New Testament (eg. Rom 8:6–8, 1 Cor 2:14–15). Paul echoes this view in 1 Thess 4:16–17. Do you really think Paul converted and died for the idea that God waited three days to start giving people visionary experiences of a dead man whose bones rotted away in the ground never to be resurrected after he failed to defeat the Romans who continued to kill the followers of the so called victorious Jesus?
TESTING THE RESURRECTION HYPOTHESIS
How does the resurrection hypothesis stack up?
Explanatory Scope: the resurrection hypothesis is able to explain all of the relevant facts whether the facts are broken down by the minimal facts, core facts or maximalist approaches.
Explanatory Power: the resurrection hypothesis explains effectively all of the relevant facts.
Plausibility: The resurrection hypothesis is plausible given what we know of Jesus. Even the Jesus Seminar admits Jesus considered himself the Son of Man in Mark 14:60–64 and was charged with blasphemy for this. The Son of Man comes in the clouds when only God does in the Old Testament and in Daniel 7:13–14 has glory, dominion, power and is served by the nations when these are all attributes reserved for God in the Old Testament. Even highly sceptical scholars admit Jesus was known as an exorcist, however, no Old Testament figure casts out demons.
Not ad hoc: Unlike other hypotheses which have many assumptions, the only assumption behind this hypothesis is that a personal mind is behind the universe (aka God). If God exists then surely the resurrection would be mere child’s play?
In accord with accepted beliefs: refer to our points on plausibility.
Comparative Superiority: none of the alternative explanations are able to explain all of the relevant facts
DIVINE SELF UNDERSTANDING OF JESUS
3rd century mosaic of Roman era prayer house refers to Jesus as God around 100 years before Nicaea Dr. Yotam Tepper
There are other miracles in the Bible and claims in other religions. What is special about the resurrection? First, the resurrection is different to other resurrection stories in the Bible in that it is a permanent transformation of the body. Second, Jesus considered himself to be God. We have written about this extensively in our other articles. For one example, we can establish the divine self understanding of Jesus through his title such as Son of Man in Mark 14:60–64 coming in the clouds when only God does and containing divine traits from Daniel 7:13–14 which Jesus was charged with blasphemy for. Even the Jesus Seminar accept this passage as authentic and the fact Jesus called himself the Son of Man is widely accepted. It was contextually a claim to divinity he was charged with blasphemy for. This meets the criterion of multiple attestation as similar events are described in other Gospels and enemy attestation as Jesus’ enemies charged him with blasphemy for his claim and some of them still were alive when Mark was written.
Third, the resurrection is distinct from all other kinds of miracles in Scripture.
For more on the divine self understanding of Jesus read our other articles:
JESUS WAS A COPYCAT PAGAN SAVIOUR?
We established early on in this article that Jesus existed. This disproves the idea he was a myth as many who hold to the dying and rising gods myth claim. However, what if Jesus existed but his resurrection story was merely copied from pagan rising and dying god myths? There would be a number of issues to holding this view given what historical evidence we have already uncovered.
However, it doesn’t just end there. First, this view confuses genealogical and analogous relationships. Just because there might be correlations, similarities or analogous relationships between views doesn’t mean that one view directly caused the other. They could simply be similar due to common conceptual patterns rather than direct causation. Second, even from an analogous perspective the evidence of a close relationship is simply not there. Unlike pagan gods Jesus died voluntarily as a meek and selfless man, the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith is unique, the 1 Corinthians 15 creed was too early for legend to develop, the Jewish concept of the resurrection was different from the pagan one, many sources on “dying and rising gods” come from after Jesus (eg. Apollonius etc), early apostles died for the belief Jesus appeared to them alongside many other differences we could outline.
Family of Osiris
Bart Ehrman argues the pagan copycat saviour theory resides in “modern imagination”, meanwhile historian Jonathan Z Smith famously said in the Encyclopedia of Religion, “The category of rising and dying Gods, once a major topic of scholarly investigation, must now be understood to have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts.”
Smith’s 600 page dissertation at Yale published in 1969 broke down the mythological points behind the rising and dying parallels with Christianity, yet, the Zeitgeist Movie in 2007 still pushed this propaganda in a movie. Smith adds, “All the deities that have been identified as belonging to the class of dying and rising deities can be subsumed under the two larger classes of disappearing deities or dying deities. In the first case, the deities return but have not died; in the second case, the gods die but do not return. There is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”
MIRACLES CAN’T HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT
A common objection is no matter how strong evidence for a resurrection may seem, miracles are impossible. However, this is a case of circular reasoning. The conclusion is assumed before any evidence is assessed. There are several unique events reported only once in history yet historians don’t doubt them. Hannibal was unique in crossing the Alps with elephants. Are we now to claim something only happens in history if it is repeated multiple times? Notice, the argument here is not that Jesus rose from the dead naturally but supernaturally.
Please beware that the materialist position is self refuting. “Everything is just particles and chemical reactions” but for that statement to be true it would need to be more than a particle or chemical reaction. Instead being a reference to a necessary truth which is universal, immaterial and unchanging, binding on all the random humans fizzing away to chemical reactions in the world. More here.
EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE?
This is another common objection. You don’t need any more evidence to prove you won a lottery ticket than to prove that you didn’t win it although winning the lottery is an extraordinary event. The question is which hypothesis best explains the available facts. Moreover, sceptics must define an extraordinary claim and extraordinary evidence. Jesus has been the most influential figure in history which is quite extraordinary for a plain carpenter from Palestine.
Is it extraordinary to claim under atheism that everything we now know came from nothing at the beginning of time? Or that intelligent conscious living organisms with intentions came from unconscious impersonal non living objects and chemical reactions that have no intentions? Or that logic, mathematics and morals must be accepted as brute facts of a universe which ultimately came from nothing? We don’t have any human witnesses to these types of events in the last 2,000 years yet countless sceptics take these extraordinary events at face value. Show me any of these events happening in a lab. They go against what we see day to day in our experiences, yet we accept them.
Are we asking what explanation best explains the fact or setting a bar so high that our other views of the world can’t even meet them?
Another common objection is that the resurrection accounts are contradictory and should consequently be ignored. However, there are four key issues with this approach.
The alleged contradictions do not impact any of the key historical facts we have covered which need to be explained. Shifting attention to differences in the Gospels is a deflection from key facts which meet historical criteria and need to be explained. NT Wright, a prominent scholar of the resurrection, gives the example of four witnesses interviewed on a car crash they witnessed. Even if some of the fringe details of their stories contradict or are slightly different, would you then infer no car accident happened? Especially if the witnesses lives were changed by witnessing the event.
Second, allowing for differences between Gospel accounts shows that we can apply criteria such as multiple independent attestation. For this illustrates the Gospel authors are not copying each other on everything. Hence, we can have more confidence we have multiple independent accounts on the facts surrounding the resurrection.
Third, many of the alleged differences are able to be reconciled or resolved. For more on this I would encourage you to view Michael Jones’ Inspiring Philosophy playlist on contradictions as well as Erik Manning’s Testify playlist on contradictions. Both are on YouTube. For example, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10 and John 20:1 provide different details on the women who went to the tomb. All four narratives mention Mary Magdalene. Mark, Luke and Matthew all refer to a Mary other than Mary Magdalene which Mark and Luke identify as Mary, Mother of James. Mark mentions Salome while Luke mentions Johanna and other women.
No Gospel says these were the only women who went to the tomb. All four Gospels independently agree there were women at the tomb. John 20:1 only refers to Mary Magdalene, however, John 20:2 refers to multiple women indicating other women were with her. This is simply a result of the ancient literary technique of spotlighting which Plutarch also uses whereby the author focuses on particular individuals present without referring to all. Bauckham suggests the women in the spotlight in each Gospel were likely the women who were more closely associated with or provided witness to the authors.
Fourth, focusing on differences without taking into account undesigned coincidences or correct references to historical places, names and people shows a clear bias against allowing the Gospels to contain any historically accurate information.
SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND
One of the fascinating things about Christianity is that if Jesus did actually rise from the dead in history then Jesus is accessible today. If this is actually true, you can experience the self authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit without even knowing all the evidence behind the resurrection. Does this mean the evidence is not important? Absolutely not but it does mean that you can experience the self authenticating witness of the Spirit and be rational in doing so unless you find any defeater arguments which make it improbable Jesus rose from the dead. On the basis of what we’ve covered today, I don’t think such arguments exist. Christianity is rooted in history yet is also a deeply spiritual and transcendent experience where one connects with God because of the work of Christ which covers our own falleness and sin.
Jer 29:13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Matt 7:7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
RELATIONAL WOUNDS ARE HEALED RELATIONALLY
Toulouse-Lautrec — The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon), 1887–1889
You might read all this thinking so what. We could describe a mother collecting her child from school in terms of a car door opening and closing, a motor vehicle moving down a highway, a seatbelt being fastened, a school bell ringing. Beneath it all though is an act of love. What the divine self understanding of Jesus shows us in light of the resurrection is that the resurrection is fundamentally about healing a relational wound. Reconciling you to God while you were far off ( Eph 2:1–10) as the Son of Man gives his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), to bring them into his family (Luke 15).
Edvard Munch- The Day After
Your hurt. Your bitterness. Your isolation. Your disconnect from truth, wholesomeness, purity and ultimate beauty. Your guilt and shame over your own behaviour. There is a way forward if Jesus did actually rise from the dead. The irony is if the resurrection is true you can connect with God by accepting Jesus and the Holy Spirit will transform your heart. You can have your own piece of personal evidence for this event- inner healing, connection with God and transformation through the work and grace of Christ.
Finding meaning and purpose in Christ.
“As a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind Him.” — N. T. Wright
If this was too long for you we have a short form article on the resurrection coming and plenty more. Please subscribe to our Substack for more.