The Reason for Easter

The resurrection of Jesus can be argued to be – if true – the most remarkable event in history. It is the strongest vindication to Jesus’ radical claims of being the son of God and people all over the world have put their faith in Jesus based on the evidence for his resurrection. However, throughout the centuries after this unique event, critiques and skeptical scholars have published books and journals in an attempt to justify denying the resurrection.

Most people are happy to agree that God exists, however in today’s secular environment a social rejection has developed towards the claim that God has revealed himself decisively in Jesus. We ask, ‘What does Christianity offer that I can’t find in Islam, or Hinduism, or Judaism or any other faith?’ The Christian answer lies in the New Testament in the book of Acts:

“He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31).

The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’ radical claims of divinity. Let’s explore the objective evidence, which makes so many people around the world convinced that their doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is correct.

Christianity is a religion grounded on historical events and therefore, like any other religion in history, can be investigated for its truthfulness, using historical methods. This investigation approaches the historical sources not as the inspired word of God, but as a mere collection of ancient manuscripts handed down from the first century AD. Its authority will only be that of which it inherits from its historical credibility.

In short, as examine such historical data, we find that providing one comes with the presupposition that God exists and can intervene with his creation, the more rational explanation to the events surrounding the resurrection story, is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

In today’s culture, people are determined to draw the conclusion that the resurrection is a mythical, fictional or an irrelevant event in history. “How can anyone come back to life having been dead for three days”, we might say, “it’s completely unheard of and scientifically unworkable”. And for that very reason we automatically decide, that Jesus could not have been resurrected from the dead either. This ‘logical’ philosophy was most forcefully stated by the respected 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who put it this way: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.” In an essay (Section X) in his book Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, Hume argued that our concrete ‘background evidence’ of the laws of nature, should in all circumstances override the ‘foreground claims’ of supernatural and scientifically impossible so called ‘miracles’. Immediately, this idea sounds very reasonable. You’re unlikely to believe someone, who tells you that they saw a yellow elephant with pink stripes, when we know they consistently come in grey. It’s a very sensible immediate assumption to make.

Nonetheless, there are a number of problems with Hume’s argument. Human observation, whether it is personal or scientific, does not authenticate in full the fixity of natural laws. One could not correctly say, “I have never seen a resurrection, so therefore they do not exist”, however they could justifiably say, “Since I have never seen a resurrection, I am lead to expect that they do not occur”. In this way, unless atheism can be proven, one must be open, to the possibility of the supernatural and I this case, Jesus’ resurrection.

The answer to the resurrection needs to be supported with evidence for it to be accepted. It is common understanding that we do not experience resurrections from the dead from day to day, but we would be wrong to immediately conclude that Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead, based on immediate presuppositions. For this reason, the question which remains is this: Is the evidence in favor of the resurrection compelling enough to suggest an exception to the normal behavior of a dead body is necessary?

Examining the evidence

These four assertions must be explored in order to give an accurate picture of the context of the resurrection: Jesus’ death and burial by Joseph or Arimathea; his empty tomb; his post-mortem appearances and the origin of the disciple’s belief in his resurrection.

Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death

Crucifixion was the worst method of torture and execution in the Roman law. Preceding his crucifixion, Jesus was flogged brutally by Roman soldiers. Such floggings usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes, but often the soldiers would strike more depending on their mood. The soldiers would use whips of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them.These Balls would cause deep bruises or contusions which would cut the skin severely and break open with further blows. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down the back and buttocks to the back of the legs. Sometimes people would die from this kind of beating. The third-century historian Eusebius described a flogging by saying, ‘The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.’ Before his crucifixion, Jesus’ wrists would have been nailed in an outstretched position to the horizontal beam, piercing the median nerve. Both shoulders would have been dislocated. After several hours of torment, Jesus’ breathing would have slowed due to exhaustion and respiratory acidosis would have developed causing an irregular heartbeat. This is an increase in the bloods acidity caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide. Before his death, hypovolemic shock would have caused sustained rapid heart rate, resulting in pericardial effusion – a collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart. After Jesus’ death by asphyxiation, Jesus side was pierced causing some fluid – pericardial effusion – to come out, followed by large amounts of blood as John describes (John 19:34). The Pharisees wanted Jesus’ body to be taken down before the Sabbath to keep in line with Jewish Law. When they came to Jesus, they found that he was already dead and so pierced his side to be sure. The release of ‘blood and water’ is the clarified result based upon medical understanding, of piercing someone’s side.

Alexander Metherell concludes in Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ

‘There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.’

Burial by Joseph of Arimathea

The statement of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, after his crucifixion provides significant evidence for the fact that Jesus’ burial site was known by Jew and Gentile alike. This is a fact which is reliably supported by the gospel accounts for the following reasons: Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Jewish court and is therefore unlikely to be a Christian invention; the burial narrative is included in a very old tradition quoted by Paul ‘and that he was buried’ (1 Corinthians 15:3 – 5) and the fact that no competing alternative burial story exists.

Joseph of Arimathea is quoted in Mark 15:43, to be ‘a prominent member of the Jewish Council’ who voted to condemn Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ burial, there was understandably a high resentment against the Jewish council (1 Thessalonians 2:15) due to their role in condemning Jesus. Therefore if the first century Christians were to have invented a fictitious man to bury Jesus, he would certainly have been an unfamiliar gentile, not a well-known Jew. This evidence suggests that this testimony is true and reliable historical source material, because for the author to name an invented person of such prominence and significance as a member of the Jewish council would have been destructive, since the claim would soon have been discredited by the eyewitnesses and later historians. There is no valid reason why a member of the council who voted to condemn Jesus should be willing to give Jesus an honorable burial as opposed to that in a common grave. Luke 23:50, 51 records Joseph ‘had not consented to their decision and action’ as he ‘was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews’. Joseph was a secret follower of Christ and did not consent to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, a very old sourced tradition used by Christians within a few years of Jesus’ death. Not only are there included two typical rabbinical terms ‘received’ and ‘delivered’ here, but he uses typical non-Pauline techniques such as the four-line structure, which collectively have convinced scholars that he is quoting an old tradition which was passed on to him, most likely during his visit to Jerusalem around AD 36, when he spent two weeks with Cephas and James (Galatians 1:18). This being the case, the tradition originated within 3 years of Jesus’ death indicating reliability.

Had the burial story been fictitious one would expect to find archaeological or historical evidence of what really happened to Jesus’ body.

For the reasons stated above, John A.T Robinson of Cambridge University in his book The Human Face of God states that the burial of Jesus in the tomb, is

‘one of the earliest and best attested fact about Jesus’

The Empty Tomb

Jesus’ empty tomb is an account very well attested for in the four gospels. Jesus was a figure known or heard of in Jerusalem by many people. The gospels record a large attendance to Jesus trial and crucifixion and many people also knew the location of his burial site. Indeed Mark records the process of Jesus burial by Joseph of Arimathea, who ‘laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.’

Historians have testimonies of the empty tomb from both Jews and Romans. In his gospel, Matthew specifically states the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb claimed, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’ (Matthew 28:12-13). There would have been absolutely no requirement for such a statement if the tomb had not been empty because in order to put a stop to early Christianity, the Romans would simply have had to produce the body. Jesus’ body was never found. It would have been impossible for the Apostles to preach the risen Jesus unless the tomb truly was empty.

Post-mortem Appearances

On multiple occasions and in differing circumstances, various groups and individuals are recorded to have experienced bodily appearances of Jesus alive after his death. Paul records a long list of people to whom Jesus had appeared.

The New Testament records of at least 10 post-mortem appearances of Jesus during the 40 days after his resurrection and before his ascension:

  1. He appeared first to the women (Matthew 28:8-10)
  2. To Mary Magdalene who had later returned to the tomb (John 20:10-18)
  3. To Cleopas, an another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
  4. To Peter sometime that afternoon (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5)
  5. To the disciples in the upper room (Luke 24:36-43).
  6.  Once again to the disciples a week later when Thomas was present (John 20:26-29).
  7. He appeared to seven disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-22)
  8. Then he appeared to the eleven on a mountain of Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
  9. This also may have been the occasion in which he appeared to more than five hundred disciples at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
  10. He appeared to his brother, James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  11. Finally, he appeared again to the eleven disciples on the occasion of his ascension into heaven (Luke 24:44-52; Acts 1:4-9; 1Cor 15:7).

These appearances are in many cases, multiply and independently attested for in the gospels, for example, the appearances to the Twelve are attested by Luke and John. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6, in saying ‘most of whom are still alive’ effectively invites his readers at the time to visit the witnesses to clarify his claims. There appears to be no good reason why Paul should include such an invitation if he were not sure such witnesses were willing and prepared to give an account of their experiences, therefore it would be rational to conclude that the ‘more than 500’ witnesses genuinely believed they had seen Jesus, alive from the dead.

According to Luke the doctor and Physician, the author of Acts, the appearances were precisely the kind of evidence which supports the resurrection.

‘He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).’

The Greek word translated “proofs” (τεκμήριον or tekmērion) denotes evidence that causes someone to know for certain.  It’s the term that was used for the strongest type of legal evidence.

Gerd Lüdemann, a leading German critic of the resurrection admits that

‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’

Origin of the Disciples Belief

Jesus original disciples developed the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. After his crucifixion but before his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples faced an embarrassing situation. Jesus, their leader was dead and based on the messianic prophecies, they did not believe in a Messiah who would die a painful and humiliating death, rather their expectation of Jesus was that he would restore Israel and its tribes and bring about peace. According to Jewish law, Jesus’ crucifixion showed him to be literally under the curse of God. In addition, Jewish belief precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection on the last day. Therefore Jesus’ disciples would have been highly skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection as it went against their previous inclinations.

This seems to be overwhelming evidence to support the Biblical claim that the disciples had lost faith in Jesus and doubted his claims which they were once convinced about, yet despite this, Jesus’ original disciples not only came to the belief in his resurrection, but many were put to death because they were unwilling to deny their belief in the resurrected Jesus. There’s no god reason to explain why someone would want to die for something they knew to be true. It seems the obvious answer would be that Jesus’ disciples were indeed justifiably convinced that Jesus had appeared to them alive from the dead.

Critics have argued that just because they were convinced in the appearances and willing to die for them, it does not mean that they are true. After all people have been willing to die for things which at the time they believed to be true, but which have later been falsified, so why should we treat this event as an exclusion from such a hypothesis? Let’s see what evidence there is that Jesus followers were convinced of the truth, and not of a falsity.

James, a brother of Jesus was not one of his disciples during Jesus’ ministry. He did not believe in his brother’s claims to divinity and rejected him as the son of God throughout his life, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). After all, is would take a lot of for you to become convinced that your brother was the son of God. Surely, there is no good reason to doubt that this remarkable transformation in Jesus’ younger brother took place because, in Paul’s words, ‘then he appeared to James’. There is now no doubt that James, the brother of Jesus became a follower of Jesus after his death and later became leader of the Jewish church, and according to the first century historian Josephus, James was martyred in the late 60’s for his faith in Jesus. Therefore there should be no doubt that this radical transformation was not the product of hallucinatory or deceptive ideas which developed in first century Jerusalem. It is a well-grounded conclusion, that James became a devout believer despite his previous doubts. Only a personal encounter with the risen Jesus can satisfy this radical change in James’s personal beliefs. In addition, it must be mentioned that such a change in one’s belief is not uniquely in James’. Paul and the disciples made the same decision as James after their meeting with the risen Jesus.

Dr Pinchas Lapide, a leading ancient historian from Germany and a devout Jew, concludes in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: a Jewish perspective, that in his opinion,

‘the resurrection belongs to the category of the truly real’

Alternative hypotheses

Biblical descriptions of the empty tomb, as we’ve seen in previous analysis appear to indicate that Jesus rose miraculously from the dead, opened the entrance to the tomb blocked with a huge stone, escaped and appeared in his original bodily form to his disciples and others who witnessed him alive. This might seem to be a flowery fiction; an exciting, highly exaggerated legend, written down and believed as fact by its forbearers, yet there’s little doubt that Jesus was indeed a real figure and did in fact make the claims as are recorded in the gospels, so how do the historical naturalistic theories stand up to the biblical description? We’ll see to what extent the Biblical testimony can hold its ground against the opposing theories.

It must first be mentioned that the following alternative theories are in general, not historically grounded in any way, but are mere speculations, attempting to explain away the supernatural aspect of the gospel narratives, therefore despite the seemingly attractiveness of such explanations, they are contradictory to the historical evidence and such a fact will be considered in the conclusion.

Stolen Body theory

The Gospels record Jesus’ tomb being found empty three days after his death, by a small group of his women followers. As we’ve seen, the Bible explains this phenomenon by claiming that God raised Jesus from the dead. The most common naturalist argument in its attempt to explain away such a seemingly absurd hypothesis is that Jesus’ body was simply stolen by his followers. Critics claim that this was done to fulfill Jesus’ prediction that ‘after three days he will rise again’. It might appear that this hypothesis explains quite plainly a natural explanation to the empty tomb, however it encounters several problems. First and foremost, the disciples were clearly and understandably in a discouraged mindset. Their leader had been tortured and killed, and their awareness of the Jewish prophesies and beliefs about the messiah precluded his crucifixion and resurrection, and therefore the stolen body theory lacks motive. In addition, Pilate had been warned previously about Jesus’ prediction to rise from the dead and was recommended by the Pharisees to have the tomb guarded and secured to prevent the possibility of theft.

Pilate was prepared for anyone attempting to break into the tomb. He had posted a Roman guard unit (Custodian) at the tomb and rolled a heavy stone in front of the entrance. In addition, the stolen body theory cannot stand alone as an alternative theory, as it has a very small explanatory scope – it can only explain the empty tomb and it is lacking an explanation for the appearances.

It is for these reasons that the stolen body theory is not reasonably justified and is therefore indicated to be false, and It is based on these arguments that Frank Morrison in his book Who Moved the Stone?, writes

‘I know there is not a single writer whose work is of critical value to-day who holds that there is even a case for discussion.’

The Swoon theory

A simple yet cunning alternative theory challenging the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances hypothesis is the Swoon theory. It claims that Jesus, somehow survived the torment of the cross, merely fainting (or swooning) from the exhaustion, awoke from unconsciousness whilst in the tomb, managed to escape from the tomb and finally convince his followers that he has been gloriously raised from the dead. Some even suggest that he was given the drug Reserpine (or similar) which may have given the illusion of his death. This explanation, despite its obvious problems, could account for a large proportion of the gospel hypotheses. It would explain the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances and to an extent, the origin of the disciple’s belief in his resurrection, and it provides no requirement for the burial hypothesis to be different from that recorded in the gospel accounts.

However, this argument quite understandably encounters great criticism from New Testament historians, so much so that it has been widely considered fatally flawed as an independent theory. Its problems are as follows:

The Swoon theory completely neglects the overwhelming evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross, namely the torture before the crucifixion, the agony of the cross and Jesus’ side being pierced, and would therefore require a far greater miracle than the resurrection in order to be true.

Therefore there should be no doubt that Jesus died during his crucifixion and should he have anyway, there is no possibility at all that he could have broken free from the linen cloths in which he was bound, removed the huge stone to open the entrance of the tomb whilst avoiding the guard, walk into the city to appear to hundreds of skeptics convincing them that he had been gloriously raised from the dead. The hypothesis is simply lunacy and would appear impossible for the rational person to accept.

The Vision or Hallucination theory

In his gospel, John cites that, ‘Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them’. Jesus could not enter a room with locked doors to appear to his disciples. Some people have suggested that this report is just one example, supporting the theory that the appearances of Jesus after his death were hallucinations or visions, like the kind spoken of in many religions.

This argument appears to be quite reasonable. After all, scientists are aware that hallucinations can take place, particularly in times of stress or emotion, however bodily resurrections are unknown to science, likewise is movement through doors. Atheist scholar Gerd Lüdemann, in his book The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Enquiry writes this, “Peter’s vision is an example of unsuccessful mourning” (pg. 165), and Paul’s “event had a character of light and, like the vision of John, happened in the spirit, i.e., in ecstasy” (pg. 47). Indeed, he believes that the appearances of Jesus to Peter and Paul were visions, under the influence of a drug.

Let’s examine more closely the hallucination hypothesis. It claims Jesus was never resurrected from the grave, so it can’t account for the empty tomb and the angel/’young man’ at the entrance to the tomb. It claims that every recorded appearance of Jesus was hallucinatory, however modern science and psychology, shows that hallucinations are individual events, never being the same for many people at once. The manifold and diverse appearances of Christ make it extremely dubious that these were hallucinations.

Jesus appeared:

  1.  At different times during the day
  2.  Both in Jerusalem and in Galilee
  3.   In public and in private
  4. To women as well as men
  5. To individual people, to groups of disciples, to tiny groups, and to a large assembly of 500 people.

These can’t all have been simultaneous hallucinations. Even if they were hallucinations, they are usually recognizable after they occur, much like waking from a dream, however we see no sign in our historical records that anyone considered them hallucinations. The question of the empty tomb still remains unanswered. It would appear that by far, the most probable explanation for these appearances is that they are genuine, bodily appearances of Jesus resurrected.

The Wrong Tomb theory

John writes in his account of the empty tomb, that ‘Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark’.It would therefore appear that the likelihood that Mary found the wrong tomb is quite high. The light was low and she could have easily mistaken an empty tomb for Jesus’ tomb. Appealing though this may be it is also quite implausible. This theory, totally disregards the straightforward historical narrative recording the events surrounding Jesus’ burial and the post-resurrection scene. The Gospels indicate that Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb, of which the women knew its exact location as they had been there on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. In addition, had the women visited the wrong tomb and after seeing that it was empty and told Jesus had risen, their first response would not be to hurriedly flee the scene, but to clarify that they had indeed been at the right tomb. Not only were Joseph and the women aware of the location of the tomb, but also were the Roman soldiers as they were posted to guard the tomb. Therefore even if the women visited the wrong tomb, all the Romans needed to do to prove the women wrong, was to open up the original tomb and reveal the body. However, this was not done or at least recorded and would contradict what historical data we do have.

In summary, the wrong tomb theory, totally ignores the overwhelming evidence supporting Jesus’ empty tomb and can account for – if considered true – very little of the overall resurrection narrative.

The Mythical theory

Some New Testament scholars hold that the bible is simply a book of parables and mythology, written by men and for men. There are so many references to the supernatural recorded in the Bible, and many miracles which are recorded to have happened, so it would seem logical to conclude that the Bible, including the resurrection narrative was either fictional, or mythically embellished through legendary development as copies and translations were made. This is a reasonably popular argument because if shown to be true it has great explanatory scope because it undermines all of the evidence given previously in favor of the resurrection taken from the New Testament.

Let’s investigate some of the evidence in favor of this theory. Luke 24:52, recalls the time when Jesus is believed to ascend to heaven, ‘was carried up into heaven’. John 2:9 claims that at Jesus’ command, ‘the water now became wine’. Throughout the Gospels and New Testament, miracles are noted to have taken place by the power of Jesus. Surely these are later additions to the original teachings of Jesus, which developed over centuries of copying and translating. These examples are commonly seen as clear evidence that the New Testament, including the Gospels recording Jesus’ resurrection, are mythically embellished with exaggerated, figurative narration and contain inaccurate information concerning the facts, therefore declaring it unreliable, condemning all previous evidence favorable to the resurrection, as useless.

Let’s now examine why many historians still consider the New Testament descriptions to be accurate copies of the original events and therefore historically dependable. Such historians will argue that the Bible lacks signs of legendary developments through its shortage of colorful and atmospheric language. The account of the empty tomb as recorded in John, for example, reads without any signs of figurative description and records plainly the event of the empty tomb as simply as would be expected. In other words, if the empty tomb account had suffered legendary development, it would surely include far more elaborate descriptions and elegant narratives as opposed to the clear and concise descriptions as enclosed in the texts.

The New Testament manuscripts, unlike some other ancient documents speak of real people, places and events which archaeology and other source material can verify. It is also evident that the writers intended for their records to be taken literally by their recipients. Luke begins his gospel by expressing the importance of his text, ‘to write an orderly account for you… that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught’. To claim that the New Testament sources were written without literal intent is to argue contrary to the author’s description of their intent.

In addition, the very old source materials enable us to translate very accurate copies of the original writings. We have over 5,000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts copied in Greek, and 8,000 to 10,000 in Latin. There are 24,000 New Testament manuscripts in all. These are astonishing figures and even more so when compared to the 30 copies of Plato’s writings, and 9 of The Jewish War, by Josephus. These astonishing amounts of early ancient copies provide translators with far more than enough sources to clarify the accuracy of their translations with. Early copies can be compared with later copies and vice versa, revealing the overwhelming accuracy of our New Testament Bibles to the original manuscripts. For these reasons, I cannot accept the hypothesis of the mythical standing and thus unreliability of the New Testament manuscripts.

Summary of theories

The Biblical description of Jesus’ resurrection revealed the convincing evidence supporting its claims, but have the critics’ theories undermined and destroyed the likelihood of such supernatural occurrences from ever happening? We’ve examined the 6 main arguments which attempt to pull apart the Biblical description offering a naturalistic approach; however none for them have appeared convincing. They seem to be mere imaginative, non-evidence based hypotheses, which have little or no possibility of being true. As our investigation into them has progressed we’ve noticed that few of the alternative theories can singularly explain away the evidence and the combined unlikelihood of several hypotheses being used together to form a complete alternative explanation, is far too great to even be considered plausible.

Each theory has non-existent – in some cases weak – historically based evidence; they are implausible and contradict the reliable historical evidence. With perhaps the exception of the mythical theory, they have little explanatory scope meaning they cannot stand alone, even if true, against the evidence.

I agree with Frank Morrison when in his book, Who Moved the Stone, he concludes

‘Yet I submit that none of the six hypotheses which we have been considering falls in greater or completer intellectual ruin than this.’

Conclusion

In rejecting the truth, whichever way it may be, one performs possibly the most illogical decision that can be made. So which direction has the evidence been shown to point? The gospel writers have presented detailed biographies of the events. The nature of their witness does not accommodate the option of being deceived or deluded as they profess empirical evidence – they record the disciples eating and drinking with him, touching him, speaking with and seeing him. If Jesus was not raised as Paul freely admits in 1 Corinthians 15:14-15, the witnesses were liars and deceivers, which based on the nature of the writings and clarification between the writers seems implausible. Too many people attested the same facts and they were not people who would fabricate such lies, but lived noble lives, ultimately willing to suffer and die for their testimony. Therefore it is far from reasonable to believe that they propagated a lie.

Critics and skeptics offer some seemingly more plausible, natural explanations to the supernatural resurrection of Jesus, however none succeed at being satisfyingly convincing. The hypothesis of the stolen body fails to account for motive and a way of removing the stone and defeating the guard. The swoon theory is grounded in the unjustifiable assumption that Jesus could have survived the agony of the cross with enough physical strength to escape from the tomb and appear in full health to his original disciples. The twin theory cannot convince based on its extreme unlikelihood, and has no supporting evidence whatsoever. Hallucinations are far too improbable to have occurred in all gospel writers and the ‘more than 500 witnesses’ at the same time and Paul in 1Co 15:6, effectively invites readers to visit and question the witnesses personally, to support his claims. The women are unlikely to have visited the wrong tomb, as they knew the location of the tomb after visiting it with Joseph of Arimathea on the night of Jesus’ burial. The hypothesis of the mythical embellishment of the Bible through inaccurate copying and translation fails to hold, against the overwhelming evidence for the reliability and accuracy of the New Testament.

In his book, Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian CB McCullers lists 6 tests, frequently used by Historians to test the plausibility of historical events:

1) It has great explanatory scope – The hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection, explains all of the events described in the gospels. 2) It has great explanatory power – The statements concerning the resurrection far outstrip any other competing hypotheses. 3) It is plausible based on the facts – The sources describe events which may be expected based upon the resurrection hypothesis. 4) It’s not ad hoc or contrived (meaning is it not based on false assumptions) – This hypothesis requires only one additional assumption, which is that God exists and can intervene with his creation. 5) It is in accord with accepted beliefs – The resurrection hypothesis is disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than any other competing theory. 6) It far outstrips any other theories in meeting conditions 1-5 – None of the competing theories come close to meeting the previous conditions more than the resurrection hypothesis.

As presented in the introduction, David Hume, a respected 18th century English philosopher, argued that in all circumstances the ‘background evidence’ should override the ‘foreground claims’ involving supernatural happenings thought to be restricted by nature. If one might believe that dead people can never rise from the dead then, of course, nothing will convince them that Jesus rose from the dead. But to take such a view is to be very confident that this universe has no intelligent creator who is capable of doing so. Lüdemann writes, “Who decides at what point of historical study a ‘theological explanation’ ought to begin?” I have been convinced that in the case of the resurrection, a theological explanation is required.  If one is at all open-minded to the possibility that there is a God who intervenes with our universe – which I believe we have independent reasons for believing so – the evidence for the resurrection is very strong; the bodily resurrection of Jesus would appear as the more justifiable explanation to the evidence, powerfully fortifying the claims of Christianity. The alternative theories have largely failed to provide a sensible naturalistic explanation of the events.

Has the evidence in favor of the resurrection been compelling enough to demand an exception to the normal behavior of the human body after death? I believe so. As a Christian I have become only more certain through my research, that Jesus did in fact live and die, but three days later, he rose again.

Feel free to get in touch if you have comments or responses to this article and I’ll endeavour to get back to you as soon as I can.

By | 2018-05-21T11:36:23+00:00 January 16th, 2014|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Prayson Daniel November 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Brilliant scholarly yet layperson approach to resurrection of Christ Jesus. I salute your beautiful mind that gives glory to God and joy to your readers.

    I will keep an eye on you as I follow your thoughts in blogosphere.

  2. 李宗瑞影片 November 18, 2013 at 4:06 am - Reply

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  4. cappy anderson February 12, 2015 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Tom-
    A very quick explanation how I came upon the article I am commenting on here; germane to me as much as this blog post is to you. So… I was reading an article on today’s Hackers News on LISP and how all of Maxwells equations are demonstrated on on a page of the LISP Manual, as asserted years ago by Alan Kay.
    Well-I did not know that–not that I was supposed to. My Back Ground is a BA in American History, and in ,my forties a JD and license to practice law.
    My intuition tells me much about the world we live in and my very bad case ADHD drives my buzzing mind and burning curiosity to know about EVERYTHING in the world. This back ground is a recipe for vocational disaster & being a walking encyclopedia of interesting but totally useless information .
    Then I clicked on you entry about hacking the EMV protocol, my mind saying to myself WTF-how can anymind understand what that garble is all about!

    Because of spending 30 years as an electronic tech-I am very in awe of all this stuff like Maxwells equations-because with out knowing a thing about how they work-this man was the giant among mortals in his time. And after reading your EMV piece- I clicked on the next enry on your blog,as is my custom, because I love to see what others are interested in.
    This, of course, brought me to your Resurrection article. I know nothing about math-never having been beyond Algebra. But I read all the time about math and still don’t get it.
    Kant,Hume , Leibnitz, Descartes, not Hegel-at minimum a fraud). I tell you all this to make a simple point-which is going to sound crude & uneducated-and I just wanted to establish that I am anything but uneducated and I say this with all the kindness & respect you deserve-but how could you say that to make your case about Jesus and his resurrection and thus the truth of him being the Messiah by 1. Stipulating a belief that God exists 2. And that there is compelling evidence about this Resurrection by reliable witnesses.

    This is a not a narrative of anything empirical but based on your pure faith. A very well written article, and a great statement of your beliefs! And it matters not that I am an aetheist, theist, agnostic. I myself have no clue other than proclivities.

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      tombell93 February 13, 2015 at 10:10 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment and for those two points you made. I would respond by saying that regarding the first point – that I assume here that God exists – you are most correct. This study presents the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and makes the claim that given the evidence, the most likely explanation is that God raised him from death to life. Of course if God doesn’t exist, this is impossible and you/I would have to come up with an alternative plausible explanation. I do however think that we have good reasons to think that God does exist, wholly apart from this evidence.
      With regards to the second point – that I’m wrong to claim that there’s compelling evidence about this resurrection from reliable witnesses – I would say that that is indeed one of the most tricky aspects of the case for the resurrection. There are good number of historians who would say that the witnesses to the resurrection aren’t reliable, that they were hallucinating when they saw Jesus, or lying about seeing him alive after death. My claim however, is that based on the testimony of the witnesses/biographers in the New Testament (the gospel writers), it is reasonable to believe that they are telling the truth and that it is difficult to justify an alternative explanation.
      Feel free to get back to me if you have any specific points of disagreement or any other comments/questions. Thanks! Tom

  5. gary May 15, 2015 at 5:46 am - Reply

    Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions guards at the tomb. John’s Gospel says nothing about guards. If John was an eyewitness, as Christians claim, isn’t that a pretty important detail to leave out of your story? The missing Roman guards in the Book of John raises an important issue. Christians often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead. A stolen body hypothesis is impossible.

    This argument completely collapses in John’s account, however, because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occurred! Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.

    To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corpse. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.

    But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

    (John 20:11-13)

    Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.

    When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.

    (John 20:14-16)

    It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every Christian must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we see that we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are reading two entirely different stories!

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