On Defending the Resurrection of Jesus
When refuting arguments against the resurrection, it is important to know the core facts that most scholars believe about the events surrounding Jesus’ death. There are usually at least four core facts that are held by Christian and non-Christian scholars.
1. Jesus was crucified and died
2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty
3. The Apostles believed they had experiences with the risen Christ.
4. Christ’s disciples were radically transformed after these experiences.
1) Jesus was crucified and died- Virtually every scholar holds to this proposition. They believe that Jesus was actually crucified and that He did in fact die. Rarely is this fact contested. The idea of the actual crucifixion being a conspiracy is not one generally held. He was nailed to the cross and died.
2) Jesus tomb was found empty- The first point that this core fact insinuates is that Jesus was actually buried. William Lane Craig, in his article The Empty Tomb of Jesus, goes into great detail and gives us five points why scholars believe this. 1) There are many early sources that attest to the burial of Jesus. 2) Even skeptical scholars agree that it is unlikely that Joseph of Arimathea was a Christian invention due to the fact that he was a Jewish Sanhedrist. Christian’s were at odds with the Sanhedrin, so why would they create a story of a Sanhedrist doing what was right in burying Jesus. 3) The story of the burial is simple and is not trying to conjure theological reflection and it is non-apologetic. 4) It is also believed because this type of burial was the custom in dealing with the death of a Holy man. 5) Finally, this is the only burial tradition that existed, which means it would have been completely out of character to do something different. The belief in the burial is important because it is needed to believe in an empty tomb. He had to be buried and they had to know which tomb he was buried in to find it empty. Why it was found empty is where scholars differ.
3) The apostles believed they had experiences with the risen Jesus- Again most scholars will agree that the apostles has some type of experience which they believed was the risen Jesus, but they do not agree on what the actual experience was. Some say it was a hallucination; some say it was the ghost of Jesus, and others believe it was the physical resurrected body of Jesus. These issues will be covered in the arguments against the naturalistic theories about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
4) Jesus’ disciples were radically transformed after these experiences- We can look at the example of Peter who denied Jesus three times in fear of his life during the events that lead up to the crucifixion. After these experiences with the risen Christ, he went on to be the leading spokesperson for the resurrection of Jesus. He was later crucified and would not back down even if it meant death. In fact, all of Jesus’ disciples were killed for their belief, except for John who was dipped in boiling oil and survived.
Virtually every scholar holds the four core facts listed above. In light of these four facts there have been three naturalistic arguments, which try to explain that Jesus did not rise from the dead. They are 1) the swoon theory 2) the hallucination theory, and 3) the stolen body or conspiracy theory.
1) Arguments against the swoon theory- The swoon theory is the argument that Jesus never really died on the cross, he merely went into a swoon, a kind of coma or unconsciousness, and later he was revived by the cool of the tomb. The first thing we notice is that this theory violates core fact #1 that Jesus was crucified and died. It also violates core fact #4, Jesus disciples were radically changed after the experiences of seeing Jesus. This raises the question, would the disciples have been radically transformed at the sight of a half dead Jesus? The swoon theory is not a highly regarded argument because of these violations, but in order to not commit the bandwagon fallacy, let us look at a few other reasons why this is not possible. A) Kreeft and Tacelli in the book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, point out that Jesus’ body was totally encased in a winding sheet (we know this from the burial tradition mentioned earlier). How could a half dead man escape a virtual straight jacket? B) We know that a swooning corpse could not have overpowered the Roman guards. C) Who moved the stone? D) Kreeft and Tacelli also make a great point that he swoon theory actually turns into the conspiracy theory, because the disciples attest to a resurrected Jesus who did not swoon. The conspiracy theory will be addressed later. E) Finally, a swooning Jesus would have had to eventually die, so where is His body?
2) Arguments against the hallucination theory- the hallucination theory is the theory that the disciples did not really see a resurrected Jesus, but merely hallucinated. This would explain why the disciples were radically transformed, because they actually thought they saw a resurrected Jesus, but this violates core fact #2, Jesus’ tomb was found empty. If the disciples were hallucinating whey didn’t the Romans take them to the tomb and show them the body when the disciples began preaching. This would have stopped them in their tracks. Kreeft and Tacelli bring up some other arguments also. A) There were too many witnesses. At one point Jesus appeared to 500 people at on time. Did they all have the same hallucination? B) One of the criteria that doctors say is needed hallucinations of this type is that the people expect to see what they see. The disciples didn’t expect to see Jesus. In fact, when they did see him they still didn’t believe, which lead to Thomas touching His wounds, and hallucinations do not have material properties. C) Jesus ate. Hallucinations do not eat. At one point the disciples sat down and ate with Jesus. If this was a hallucination, then either a hallucination (Jesus) ate actual food, or the disciples ate hallucinated food. It is clear from all the details of the appearances of Jesus that they could not have been hallucinations.
3) Arguments against the stolen body or conspiracy theory- This is the idea that the disciples stole the body in order to make people believe Jesus had actually resurrected, but this violates core fact #4 the disciples were radically transformed. How could a group of men go from being men who feared for their lives to men who would die for their beliefs if they knew that their beliefs were a lie? Another argument is that this goes against the character of the disciples. These were honest upright men who would have had to violate their core beliefs to pull this off.
Some might say that it was not the disciples who took the body but the Romans, but we have already shown earlier that if it were the Romans, all they would have to do in order to put a stop to the disciples preaching would be to produce the body. This also violates core fact #3 that the disciples believed they saw a resurrected Jesus. If the Romans had taken the body then they disciples would have had hallucinations, and we have already shown that this does not work.
Up to this point there has not been a plausible naturalistic explanation for the resurrection of Jesus, which leaves us with the alternative that he did raise physically from the dead.