The Book of Acts was written by Luke the Evangelist, a physician who has proven to be a very trustworthy historian.
In Acts 1:3 Luke recorded that Jesus’ resurrection was demonstrated by “many proofs” (in the original Greek, en pollois tekmariois).” The phrase “en pollois tekmariois” means “‘decisive proof, and indicates the strongest type of legal evidence.” [See, John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 99 (1997) cf. Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament; Josh McDowell & Bill Wilson, A Ready Defense, pg. 219 (1993)] In today’s legal terms this would be evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt” or beyond a “moral certainty”, which are the highest burdens of proof required by the American legal system.
This article summarizes the evidence Christian apologists rely on in determining that Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is a rational belief. The article also addresses the challenges made to the assertions of skeptics that natural explanations are always more preferable than supernatural explanations.
Many skeptics adamantly maintain that it is irrational to believe Jesus was raised from the dead because the laws of nature do not permit such a phenomenon. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig agrees that if one is limited to the laws of nature then it is highly improbable that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. However, Craig maintains that if God does exist, then it is not improbable that God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.”, pg. 56 (1998)]
Christian apologists maintain that it is, indeed, rational to believe Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead when one considers the totality of the evidence including: 1) the philosophical and scientific evidence for the existence of God (here>>), 2) the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (see below) and 3) the fact that no alternative theory adequately explains the historical evidence surrounding the resurrection (see below). [See, Gary Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (2007)]
However, it must be recognized that like any other historical event, the resurrection cannot be proved scientifically because in order for the scientific method to be applied, an event must be capable of being repeated. Since no historical event or person can be repeated, no historical event or figure can be scientifically proven. However, that doesn’t mean no proof is possible. Rather, like in many court proceedings when scientific evidence is not available, the truth is determined by considering the reliability of witness testimony as well as other available evidence. As set forth in the articles referenced below, Christian apologists confidently maintain that Jesus’ resurrection is verified by reliable witness testimony and documentary evidence in the same way other historical facts are systematically and rationally verified.
Summary of the Argument
The claim by Christian apologists that belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a rational belief can be summed up as follows:
There is good reason to believe God exists (here>>);
If God exists, then God could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead;
The following seven (7) lines of historical evidence demonstrate to a reasonable degree that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead:
No. 1: 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>>).
No. 2: The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus’ tomb being found empty (here>>).
No. 3: The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of the transformation in the lives of Jesus’ disciples from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>).
No. 4: 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.
No. 5: The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice in that day to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders.
No. 6: The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like the resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings.
No. 7: The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though Jesus had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders.
Over the last 2,000 years, skeptics have proffered various alternative theories to attempt to explain away the historical evidence of Jesus’ supernatural resurrection. However, as discussed in the above-linked articles, Christian apologists maintain none of the proposed naturalistic theories adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence and none of the theories are rationally compelling. Since there is a rational basis for believing God exists (here>>) and since Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is the one explanation that adequately explains the totality of the historical evidence, Christian apologists maintain there is a reasonable basis for believing God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead as reported by multiple independent sources in the New Testament.
Isn’t it More Rational to Believe in an Even Seemingly
Inadequate Natural Explanation of Jesus’ Resurrection than to
Believe He was Supernaturally Raised from the Dead?
Many skeptics maintain that no matter how inconceivable or inadequate a natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection may be, any natural explanation is preferable to the explanation that Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead. The principle that natural explanations are always more simple and, therefore, preferable to supernatural explanations is often referred to as Occam’s razor.
Point No. 1: The principle of Occam’s razor only applies if an adequate “simple” explanation is offered. However, in the case of Jesus’ resurrection (as set forth in the linked articles referenced above), none of the naturalistic theories tendered by skeptics adequately explain the totality of the historical record. Since no naturalistic theory has proven to be adequate, the principle of Occam’s razor cannot reasonably be relied on to rule out Jesus’ supernatural resurrection which does adequately explain the entirety of the historical record.
Point No. 2: While it is true that, in general, simpler theories are preferable to more complex explanations, it is also true that an incorrect simple theory is never preferable to a more complex but correct theory. As stated by Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, none of the proffered naturalistic explanations adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence; therefore, Jesus’ supernatural resurrection (which does explain the entirety of the historical record) is the simplest adequate explanation.
Although some skeptics are quick to allege that anyone who believes in Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is an intellectual simpleton who just isn’t willing to do the hard work of looking for an adequate natural explanation, this allegation is unfounded. Many well-respected philosophers, thinkers and scientists have been convinced that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead. A handful of examples include Augustine, Isaac Newton, C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, Simon Greenleaf, John Warwick Montgomery, John Lennox, Hugh Ross, Ian Hutchinson).
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.” [John Ankerberg & John 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.”
Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist that 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.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: June 2, 2012 / Last Updated: March 20, 2018
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
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 Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?”, pg. 1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)
Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers Rei Sub edition by Thayer, Joseph published by Hendrickson Publishers Hardcover (Hendrickson, 1996)
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING
Slideshow Photo: Graphic representation of Jesus’ empty tomb (author unknown).