Christian apologists confidently maintain belief in Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is a rational belief (more>>). In support of that proposition, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists point to is the historical documentation that after Jesus was crucified and buried, he was seen alive by multiple witnesses in a physically resurrected body.
In response, some skeptics propose the reports of multiple witnesses seeing the resurrected Jesus are simply part of a later-developed myth or legend. However, as set forth in this article, Christian apologists maintain such a proposition is wholly inadequate and by no means rationally compelling.
According to the historical record, after Jesus’ death and burial, he appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshiping him. (Go to index of eyewitness accounts) [See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]
As set forth below, Christian apologists maintain the eyewitness accounts of people seeing the resurrected Jesus cannot be compellingly explained away as part of a later-developed myth or legend.
Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Theory that Jesus’ Resurrection is Simply Part of a Later-Developed Myth or Legend is Not Rationally Compelling
Many skeptics allege Jesus’ resurrection is nothing but a myth or legend that developed long after the events of Jesus’ life actually took place and is only believed by those who are gullible enough to believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
Christian apologists respond to allegations that Jesus’ resurrection is simply part of a later-developed legend or myth by raising the following rebuttal points:
Rebuttal Point No. 1: The Resurrection Account Surfaced Too Early to be Disregarded as Mere Myth
Since myths can be easily discredited by eyewitnesses, myths do not surface for many years after an event has occurred. A.N. Sherwin-White, an Oxford scholar and expert in Greek and Roman history, states the development of a myth or legend requires two full generations. [A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, pgs. 186-193, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978)] For example, myths about Buddha and Mohammed did not arise until several generations after their deaths. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 190-191 (1994)] The remarkable thing about the historical account of Jesus’ resurrection is the accounts were reported by eyewitnesses and were circulated throughout the region where the events occurred within a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection were recorded in very early documents including 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which has been dated back to 2 – 5 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. [See, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, pg.273 (1984); see also, Boa & Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 232 (2002)] As noted by William Lane Craig, one must also consider that since the belief Jesus’ followers had in the resurrection had to predate the time the passage in 1 Corinthians was actually written, the date the actual belief in the resurrection arose was even earlier than 2 – 5 years after the crucifixion. A 2- 5 year window of time is an extremely short period of time for a myth to develop. As for the accounts of the resurrection contained in the gospels, almost all scholars (including secular scholars) agree the first gospel (which most scholars believe is Mark) was written no later than 70 A.D. and some scholars propose the first gospel may have been written in the 50’s A.D. Nevertheless, even if the later date of 70 A.D. is assumed, 70 A.D. is seventy years after Jesus’ birth, not his resurrection. Since Jesus started his ministry when he was about 30 years old (see, Luke 3:23) and his ministry lasted about three years, 70 A.D. was only about 37 years after the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion occurred. Thus, it is simply not true that the account of the resurrection developed long after the events occurred as in the case of actual myths. Professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli note that nineteenth century secular scholars have been challenged to produce a single example anywhere in history where a great myth about an historical figure arose and was generally believed within 30 years after the historical figure died and no such example has been produced. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 190-191 (1994); Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1622 (2007); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pgs. 36-40, 51-52 (1998); J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pg. 160 (1987)]
Rebuttal Point No. 2:The Resurrection Accounts Do Not Consist of the Usual “Two Layers” Typically Found in Myths
Myths about historical figures always contain two layers. The first layer is the historical non-myth layer which is followed much later by a myth overlay. The interesting thing about the life of Jesus is there is only one layer — from beginning to end, Jesus is described as performing miracles and rising from the dead. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 191 – 192 (1994)] As stated by William Lane Craig, in the case of Jesus “no relic of a non-miraculous story exists” in the historical record. Rather, all of the early writings which discuss Jesus (including extra-biblical sources), reference supernatural events:
- Letters of Barnabas and Clement refer to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection
- Polycarp referenced Jesus’ resurrection
- Irenaeus reported hearing Polycarp talk of Jesus’ miracles
- Quadratus stated there were people who were still alive who had been healed by Jesus
- Justin Martyr (aka Saint Justin) referred to Jesus’ miracles
Dr. Craig concludes as follows:
“That the original story should be lost and replaced by another goes beyond any known example of corruption of even oral tradition, not to speak of the experience of written transmissions. These facts show that the story in the Gospels was in substance the same story that Christians had at the beginning. This means … that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of the story.” [William Lane Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction, chap. 6 (Moody Press, 1984)]
Rebuttal Point No. 3: If the Resurrection was an Invented Myth, the Inventors Would Have Had Men (Not Women) be the First, and Perhaps Only, Witnesses
According to the biblical accounts, the first witnesses to discover Jesus had risen from the dead were women — Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James and Salome (see, Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-2, 9-11; John 20:10-18). Christian apologists assert that if Jesus’ resurrection was a myth created by Jesus’ followers (who were all first-century Jews), it is very unlikely they would have chosen women to be the first witnesses, if at all, because during that time, women had a low social status and were considered so untrustworthy they were not permitted to testify in legal proceedings. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pg. 192 (1994)] William Lane Craig references the following old rabbinical sayings which reflect a general disdain for women: “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered to women” and “Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.” [LeeStrobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pgs. 49-50 (1998)] If Jesus’ followers made up the story that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, it is much more likely they would have chosen to have Jesus appear to one or more of his twelve male disciples. [See, Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 651 (1999)] The fact women were the first to witness the resurrected Jesus is most reasonably explained by the reality that, despite the then-existing prejudice against women, the gospel writers faithfully recorded the facts of what really happened. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pg. 50 (1998)]
Rebuttal Point No. 4: Peter and John Attested to the Fact the Resurrection Was Not a Myth
Throughout the apostle Peter’s writings in the New Testament, he attested to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection:
- 1 Peter 1:6: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
- 1 Peter 1:21: “For he [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
In 2 Peter 1:16, the apostle Peter specifically denies he and the other disciples were spreading false tales:
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Acts 2:22-32 records Peter’s proclamation to the men in Jerusalem who had seen Jesus perform miracles and witnessed his resurrection:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again…. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”
Likewise, in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle John reports he and others were bearing witness to things they had “seen with their eyes” and “beheld with their hands.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul reported he was passing on the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection as a matter of “first importance.”
All of these eyewitnesses (the apostle Peter, the apostle John and Paul fka Saul) boldly asserted their reports about Jesus’ miracles and resurrection were true historical facts, not mythical concoctions. These men were so convinced of the historical reliability of the facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection they endured ongoing persecution and imprisonment for preaching these facts were true. John was exiled to the island of Patmos and both Peter and Paul were repeatedly imprisoned and eventually died as martyrs. There is simply no evidence these men invented fanciful tales like those normally associated with the development of myths such as Robin Hood and St. Nicolas (Santa Claus). If what these witnesses said is not true, they were lying. However, if they were lying, they were unexplainably willing to suffer great persecution and martyrdom for their lies. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 192-193 (1994)]
Rebuttal Point No. 5: Skeptics Wouldn’t have Converted to Christianity if there was Reasonable Suspicion that Jesus’ Resurrection was a Myth
The list of witnesses who testified Jesus had risen from the dead includes James the Just (Jesus’ half-brother and a prior skeptic) and Paul fka Saul (a Pharisee and a man who had made it his mission to hunt down Christians to persecute them). Yet, after these men came face to fact with the risen Jesus they not only converted to Christianity, they dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel and died as martyrs for their beliefs. The change in the lives of these skeptics cannot reasonably be explained if there had been suspicion that Jesus’ resurrection was part of a myth. [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pg. 1622 (2007)] The change exhibited in these men’s lives is uniquely explained by the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. [See, J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pgs. 178-179 (1987)]
Rebuttal Point No. 6: Most of the Witnesses Initially Doubted Jesus had been Resurrected and they Wouldn’t have been Convinced of His Resurrection if it was Mere Myth or Legend
The historical record demonstrates that when most of the witnesses first saw the resurrected Jesus or were told he had risen from the dead, they questioned Jesus’ resurrection and it took some convincing for them to come to believe Jesus had been resurrected from the dead:
- Luke 24:11 reports when the women who went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty told the disciples they had seen Jesus and he had risen from the dead, the disciples thought they were speaking “nonsense” and “did not believe the women.”
- Luke 24:38 says when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they thought they were seeing a ghost.
- Thomas aka Didymus said he wouldn’t believe Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he actually touched the holes in Jesus’ hands and side. When he did, his response was: “My Lord and my God!” (see, John 20:24-28) and Thomas died a martyr.
None of Jesus’ followers initially believed Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and, in fact, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief (see, Matt. 28:17; Luke 24:25-27, 38, 41; John 20:24-27). Since the first response of Jesus’ followers was to doubt Jesus had been resurrected, it seems quite unusual all of them would have subsequently come to believe Jesus had been resurrected if it was just a myth. Ten of the remaining 11 original disciples and many others were so convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, they endured beatings, imprisonment, torture and finally martyrdom for their beliefs. [See, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 186-187 (1994)]
Rebuttal Point No. 7: The Writing Styles of the Accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection are Not Mythical in Nature
As argued by Boston College professors, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, the writing style of the gospels which contain written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are different than that normally contained in mythical writings:
The style of the Gospels is radically and clearly different from the style of all the myths. Any literary scholar who knows and appreciates myths can verify this. There are no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events. Nothing is arbitrary. Everything fits in. Everything is meaningful. [Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 186-187 (1994)]
The principle of Occam’s razor, which states that simple explanations are preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Consequently, Occam’s razor can only be relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation is offered (more>>).
In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh decidedly against the explanation that the eyewitnesses accounts of seeing the resurrected Jesus is only part of a later-developed myth or legend. The other alternative explanations skeptics have offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to look beyond such alternative explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.
In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead and the Christian faith is mere foolishness (more>>). Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:
- The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
- The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
- The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
- The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
- The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders
In fact, following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:
Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.
[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]
Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.
For information on how to know God personally, go here.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: Feb. 20, 2013
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)
Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)
Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)
Gary R. Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe“Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pgs. 1621-1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1st Edition, 1994)
J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity(Baker Academic, 1987)
A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament: The Sarum Lectures 1960-1961 (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004)
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING
Slideshow Photo: The image used in the slideshow is a cropped image from a copy of the cover of King Kalakaua’s book “The Legends and Myths of Hawaii.” The image was downloaded from www.commons.wikimedia.org which stated the image was in the public domain because the copyright had expired in the U.S. and all countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.
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