Short Conversations 2023: Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Shroud of Turin

In our previous article, we covered the key arguments for and against the resurrection. Today, we provide a snapshot of the key points in our last post in a conversational format.

Jesus never existed or died and was likely a copy from dying and rising pagan gods. Famous skeptic of Christianity Bart Ehrman claims, “Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.” We have 42 sources on Jesus within 150 years of his life including from multiple non Christian sources. We have over a dozen early sources which refer to Christ’s death. Non Christian NT professor, Gerd Lüdemann contends, “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Historians such as Jonathan Z Smith who wrote a 600 page dissertation at Yale on this topic have debunked the dying and rising gods myth. Smith contends the idea of dying and rising pagan gods, “have been largely a misnomer based on imaginative reconstructions and exceedingly late or highly ambiguous texts” and there “is no unambiguous instance in the history of religions of a dying and rising deity.”

3rd century mosaic claiming Jesus is God

How do you explain the resurrection from a historical perspective? We assess a historical hypothesis on the basis of criteria such as explanatory power and explanatory scope in explaining key historical facts. We determine key historical facts using criteria such as dissimilarity, embarrassment, multiple attestation, enemy attestation and historical congruence. Applying these historical criteria we can determine Jesus is ALIVE

Appearances to his followers (1 Cor 15, Mt 28, Lk 24, Jn 20–21, Acts 1, Josephus etc). Multiple attestation, early attestation within 5 years in 1 Cor 15:3–8, embarrassment in female witnesses.

Low status of women in first century Judaism (embarrassment; Mt 28,Mk 16, Lk 24,Jn 20)

Immediate proclamation of the resurrection in Jerusalem (Acts 2; Galatians 1 you would go elsewhere or wait some time if starting a lie). Multiple attestation.

Voluntary sufferings undergone by the first witnesses (Acts, Josephus, Tacitus, Polycarp, Tertullian etc). Enemy attestation, multiple attestation.

Empty tomb (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24, Jn 20, 1 Cor 15 etc). Early and multiple attestation, embarrassment in female witnesses.

The resurrection hypothesis in the context of God existing and Jesus having a divine self understanding (Mark 14:60–64 called Son of Man who comes in the clouds; only God comes in the clouds in the Old Testament and the Son of Man has divine traits in Daniel 7:13–14- as a result Jesus is charged with blasphemy) explains all these facts. No other explanation can adequately explain these facts. Nor does any alternative explanation cover all the facts in the minimal facts or core facts approaches we discussed in our last post.

First century crucified heel bone

What about alternative explanations? Swoon theory does not explain these facts as Romans were skilled executioners who would have surely killed Jesus properly and it is impossible a broken and beaten Jesus would appear to be a glorified man to the disciples. The idea the disciples stole the body makes no sense in that they lost everything for their belief in Jesus including their lives and immediately proclaimed the Gospel in Jerusalem where Jesus died and the disciples were hated. If the Romans took the body and gave it to dogs they would have made a scene of it rather than claim the disciples stole it. Moreover, this contradicts a key historical fact that Joseph of Arimathea (embarrassing fact as Sanhedrin member) was involved in the burial.

What about hallucinations or a spiritual resurrection? Hallucinations can’t explain the empty tomb. Moreover, hallucinations tend to be individualistic experiences. The appearances of Jesus were often group appearances to people who had no hope or expectation in Jesus coming back to life. A spiritual resurrection does not explain the empty tomb, makes no sense in light of the Jewish expectation of a resurrection involving a physical change to the body which Paul also echoed in 1 Cor 15:51–53 where he spoke of a perishable body being changed to an imperishable body. There is physical change and continuity from a Jewish perspective.

Dying for something doesn’t prove it’s true. Of course it doesn’t in and of itself. Many have died for lies on opposite sides of history. However, being prepared to die for something and forgoing all worldly benefits indicates sincerity of belief even if the underlying belief might be false. This means the disciples could not have been intentionally deceiving but must have either been deceived or been speaking the truth. The case for the resurrection is a cumulative case which can explain all the key facts while no other hypothesis can. As such, being deceived is also ruled out.

Miracles can’t happen no matter what. This is a case of circular reasoning. The conclusion is assumed before any evidence is assessed. There are several unique highly improbable events reported only once in history yet historians don’t doubt them. The resurrection hypothesis in the light of God’s existence and Jesus’ divine self understanding is the only hypothesis which explains the key facts. Saying miracles can’t happen no matter what is linked to a materialist worldview which 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 seemingly random humans fizzing away to chemical reactions in the world.

Theodore Gericault

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 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. Does this mean he never existed?

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?

Texas Lotto

What about contradictions? The alleged contradictions do not impact any of the key historical facts we have covered which need to be explained, provide evidence we have independent sources on Jesus which agree on key facts, most if not all contradictions (real v apparent contradictions) can be reconciled or resolved and this view fails to consider undesigned coincidences and historical precision among the Gospels.

La Mélancolie

Do I need to know how to argue through all this to be a Christian or can I connect with God through other means? Relational wounds are healed relationallyWe are called to defend our faith (1 Peter 3:15) and Jesus and Paul would regularly debate people, but you don’t need to know the historical arguments in and out to be a Christian. God can be directly known and experienced and you can seek Jesus where you are today. If Jesus did actually rise from the dead, the irony is you can access God’s Spirit here and now to connect you with God as you are forgiven from sin, crossing from death to life.

Read our comprehensive resurrection guide

Read a short conversation on if Jesus thought he was God

If Jesus is God with no beginning then why is he called a begotten firstborn Son?

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