As explained by Pastor Andy Stanley, there are many religions and belief systems which embrace a book, a prophet or a set of teachings but the Christian faith uniquely hinges on one historical event — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ resurrection verified everything Jesus said and everything he claimed to be.  [Andy Stanley, One Simple Truth, “The Resurrection:  it’s Essential”, aired on GMC on 4/8/12 (www.northpoint.org)As forthrightly stated by the apostle Paul, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, the faith of Christians is in vain and Christians are to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:13-19).  Without question, Jesus’ resurrection lies at the very heart of the gospel message (more>>).

As phenomenal as the claim of Jesus’ resurrection is, it is not something Christians are required to accept by blind faith, i.e., faith without a reasonable basis.  Rather, as confidently maintained by Christian apologists, there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead (more>>).  As discussed in this article, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists rely on to demonstrate a reasonable basis for belief in Jesus’ resurrection, are the historically documented eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ after-death appearances.

According to the historical record, after Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, he was seen alive in a physically 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).  On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered to let someone touch him 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 his disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshipping him. [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)]  

[Go here for a detailed index of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ after-death appearances.]

In face of the historical evidence of Jesus’ after-death appearances to multiple eyewitnesses, skeptics have tendered the following alternative explanations which, as set forth below, Christian apologists maintain are wholly inadequate and, by no means, rationally compelling:

  1. The witnesses were hallucinating (skip to>>)
  2. The witnesses were victims of groupthinking or wishful thinking (skip to>>)
  3. The witnesses were lying (skip to>>)
  4. The witnesses were mistaken (skip to>>)
  5. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus were telegraphed images (skip to>>)
  6. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus were spiritual in nature, not physical (skip to>>)
  7. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus were visions (skip to>>)
  8. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus are a part of a later developed myth or legend (skip to>>)
  9. A substitute was crucified in Jesus’ place and the real Jesus appeared in a non-resurrected body (skip to>>)
  10. Jesus conspired to fake his death, or he otherwise survived the crucifixion (e.g., the Swoon Theory), and then subsequently appeared to the witnesses in a non-resurrected body (skip to>>)

As summarized in this article and detailed in the linked articles identified below, Christian apologists maintain none of the alternative explanations of Jesus’ after-death appearances adequately explain the totality of the historical record and none of the alternative explanations are rationally compelling.  Since there are good reasons to believe God exists (here>>) and, therefore, could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, and since Jesus’ resurrection is the one explanation which explains all the historical evidence (more>>), Christian apologists maintain a Christian’s belief that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead is a rational belief.

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS OF JESUS’ POST-RESURRECTION APPEARANCES

Alternative Explanation No. 1

The Witnesses Were Hallucinating

One of the ways skeptics seek to explain the historically documented eyewitness reports of Jesus’ post crucifixion and burial appearances is to propose the witnesses were hallucinating.

Christian apologists maintain the hallucination theory is inadequate for the following reasons:

  • The fact the witnesses initially expressed doubt Jesus had been resurrected from the dead is inconsistent with the explanation the witnesses were hallucinating when they subsequently saw him alive (full briefing>>)
  • The extended length of time many of the appearances lasted is inconsistent with the witnesses having hallucinations (full briefing>>)
  • It is highly improbable skeptics, such as James the Just and Paul fka Saul, would have the same hallucination as each other and the same hallucination Jesus’ long-time followers had (full briefing>>)
  • People who have reported seeing or hearing from people who have died haven’t been willing to be persecuted or martyred for their beliefs like all of Jesus’ disciples were willing to be persecuted and martyred (full briefing>>)
  • Different people don’t have the same hallucination at different times and different places; yet, this is what occurred with respect to the accounts of the witnesses who saw Jesus in a resurrected body (full briefing>>)
  • Hallucinations usually only happen once, not on multiple occasions over a long period of time; however, Jesus was seen after his crucifixion and burial on twelve (12) separate occasions.  Eleven of the appearances took place over the 40 day period immediately following Jesus’ death.  The appearance to Paul fka Saul, a skeptic, occurred much later (full briefing>>)
  • The dissimilar backgrounds and personalities of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post crucifixion and burial appearances weighs against the explanation they were all hallucinating (full briefing>>)
  • If Jesus’ appearances were hallucinations, the Jews or Romans could have produced Jesus’ dead body to refute the claims of the witnesses and squelch the threatening rise of Christianity which was foundationally based on Jesus’ resurrection (full briefing>>)
  • The hallucination theory doesn’t explain why Jesus’ tomb was found empty (full briefing>>)
  • Hallucinations can’t be touched, yet, the historical record documents that during Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances, Jesus was physically touched on at least three separate occasions (full briefing>>)
  • Hallucinations are not heard by multiple people at the same time, yet, the resurrected Jesus was heard by multiple people at the same time on multiple occasions (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 2

The Witnesses Were Victims of Groupthinking or Wishful Thinking

Some skeptics maintain the witnesses’ belief they had seen Jesus alive after he had been raised from the dead could have been a product of groupthinking or wishful thinking in which the witnesses talked each other into seeing something they wanted to see but which really wasn’t there.

Christian apologists challenge the proposition the witnesses were victims of groupthinking or wishful thinking on the following grounds:

  • Because Jesus’ disciples were severely persecuted for their beliefs, they had every reason to either recant the supposed groupthinking or or at the very least just walk away from the group.  Instead of doing so, all of the disciples chose to endure great persecution and/or martyrdom for their belief. (full briefing>>)
  • Neither James the Just nor Paul fka Saul was a disciple of Jesus before he was crucified.  Even after Jesus’ crucifixion and claimed resurrection, Paul hunted Christians down to have them arrested and persecuted.  Neither of these Jewish skeptics would have been susceptible to being influenced by groupthinking or wishful thinking.  Nevertheless, both Paul and James claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus and both of them died as martyrs for their beliefs. (full briefing>>)
  • The allegation the witnesses talked each other into seeing something they wanted to see cuts two ways. It can likewise be argued that the reason people don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead isn’t because it didn’t happen, and/or there is insufficient historical evidence for his resurrection, but because they really don’t want to believe it. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 3

The Witnesses Were Lying

Some skeptics charge the witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after he was crucified and buried were simply lying. Christian apologists maintain such an explanation is wholly unconvincing for the following reasons:

  • Although some people may martyr themselves for something they think is true (but is really false), people do not martyrthemselves for a cause they know is false.  In this case, the witnesses had no reason to lie about seeing the resurrected Jesus. If the disciples were lying about seeing Jesus alive, then all eleven of the remaining 11 original disciples and many other followers of Jesus were willing to be persecuted and/or die for something they knew was false.  As Professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli note:

[L]ies are always told for some selfish advantage, yet, what advantage did any of the disciples gain from lying and saying that they had seen the risen Jesus? They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions – hardly a catalog of perks. [Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pgs. 185-186 (1994)]

(full briefing>>)

  • If the witnesses were lying their lies would have eventually been exposed because liars inevitably “spill the beans” either for financial gain or to save themselves.  In this case, not a single disciple was persuaded to expose “the lie” for financial gain or to spare themselves or their friends and family great persecution. (full briefing>>)
  • The theory the disciples lied about seeing the resurrected Jesus doesn’t account for the dramatic transformation in the lives the disciples from fearful fleers to faithful followers. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 4

The Witnesses Were Mistaken

Some skeptics allege the witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion and burial were simply mistaken.  Christian apologists maintain the explanation the witnesses were mistaken is inadequate as follows:

  • Although some of the witnesses initially mistook Jesus for someone else (e.g., Mary Magdalene initially thought Jesus was the gardener), none of the witnesses left his/her encounter with Jesus with any doubt they had seen a resurrected Jesus.  In fact, they were so certain they had seen Jesus resurrected from the dead they endured great persecution and/or died as martyrs for that belief. (full briefing>>)
  • A person who has shared an intimate relationship with someone else isn’t likely to misidentify that person. In this case, all of the disciples shared a close relationship with Jesus for about three years.  Although some of the witnesses were probably so certain Jesus was dead they initially assumed the risen Jesus was someone else, once they saw him up close and/or spent time with him, they were so convinced they had seen the resurrected Jesus they endured great persecution and/or died as martyrs for that belief. (full briefing>>)
  • If the disciples were simply mistaken, the Roman and/or Jewish leaders could have presented Jesus’ dead body to correct the mistake and squelch the rapid rise of Christianity which the Jews and Romans found so threatening and which was foundationally based on Jesus’ resurrection. (full briefing>>)
  • Jesus appeared to more than 500 people, on twelve separate occasions, over a forty day period and to at least two skeptics. It is unlikely so many different people, on so many different occasions, would have mistaken someone else for Jesus. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 5

The Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus Were Telegraphed Images

Some skeptics urge that the witnesses who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus only saw a telegraphed image of Jesus.

Christian apologists challenge this explanation as follows:

  • Even if Jesus had appeared as a telegraphed image, such a phenomenon would still have involved some kind of supernatural intervention. Therefore, the theory Jesus appeared telegraphically merely substitutes one supernaturalphenomenon for another. (full briefing>>)
  • The theory Jesus appeared telegraphically doesn’t explain why Jesus’ tomb was found empty. (full briefing>>)
  • The words used by the authors to report Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances give no indication Jesus was seen as a telegraphed image. Rather, the words used to report Jesus’ resurrection, literally mean “the standing up of the flesh” and “the standing up of the corpses.” (full briefing>>)
  • Telegraphed images cannot be touched and do not eat.  Yet, there are multiple reports in the historical record that the resurrected Jesus ate food and was physically touched by multiple people. (full briefing>>)
  • A telegraphed image transmitted to one person would not be heard by others.  However, in the case of the resurrected Jesus, on ten separate occasions, the things Jesus said during his appearances were heard by multiple people at the same time. (full briefing>>)

 Alternative Explanation No. 6

The Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus were Spiritual in Nature, Not Physical

In an attempt to explain away the multiple historical reports of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances, some propose Jesus appeared in a spiritual form.  In support of the proposition Jesus’ appearances were spiritual in nature, some point to 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 where the apostle Paul refers to the resurrection body as a “spiritual body”.

In reply, Christian apologists make the following points:

  • A spiritual body, as described in the Bible, is not devoid of all physical matter, even though it is immortal, and the apostle Paul’s use of the word “spiritual” in 1 Corinthians. 15:42-44 does not refer to purely immaterial things. (full briefing>>)
  • Spirits can’t be touched and do not eat but Jesus was reportedly touched on at least two occasions and ate food on three (3) or four (4) occasions. (full briefing>>)
  • Theorizing Jesus’ appearances were spiritual in nature doesn’t obviate the necessity of a supernatural act. (full briefing>>)
  • Conjuring up spirits was forbidden by the Holy Scripture of the Jews and isn’t something Jesus’ Jewish followers were likely to engage in. (full briefing>>)
  • The explanation that Jesus appeared as a spirit presumes the disciples could not distinguish between a spirit and a physical body. (full briefing>>)
  • The theory that Jesus appeared as a spirit makes Jesus a deceiver because he specifically referred to his physicalbody in direct reference to his resurrection.  If Jesus was engaging in deceptive conduct, he would have violated his own teachings making himself one of the hypocrites he so vehemently despised.  Engaging in such deceptive conduct would have also gone against Jesus’ established reputation of being a man of integrity. (full briefing>>)
  • The explanation that Jesus appeared as a spirit doesn’t explain why Jesus’ tomb was found empty. (full briefing>>)
  • The words used in the Bible to describe Jesus’ appearances describe the appearance of a physical body, not a spirit. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 7

The Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus Were Visions

Some people take the position the witnesses of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances were having visions. In support of this theory, they often point to Luke 24:23 which says the women who went to the tomb saw “a vision of angels” and Acts 26:19, in which the apostle Paul  says he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”

Christian apologists raise the the following responsive points:

  • The Bible makes no reference to Jesus appearing as a vision in any of the post-crucifixion appearances. (full briefing>>)
  • Luke 24:23 does not say Jesus was seen in a vision; it only references a vision of angels. (full briefing>>)
  • There is no indication in Acts 26:19 the vision referenced in that passage referred to the apostle Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the Road to Damascus. (full briefing>>)
  • The fact the men with Paul fka Saul on the Road to Damascus didn’t see Jesus doesn’t mean Paul only saw a vision of Jesus.  Indeed, the fact the men saw the light and heard Jesus’ voice is inconsistent with Paul only having a vision. (full briefing>>)

 Alternative Explanation No. 8

 The Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus are Part of a Later Developed Myth or Legend

Some skeptics charge the accounts of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances are nothing more than part of a myth or legend that developed long after the events of Jesus’ life actually took place and is only believed by people who are incredibly gullible.

Christian apologists challenge the proposition that Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances are merely part of a later developed myth or legend as follows:

  • Because myths and legends can be easily discredited by eyewitnesses, myths and legends do not surface for many years after an event has occurred. The unique thing about Jesus’ resurrection is that it was reported by eyewitnesses and circulated in writing within 2 to 5 years after the resurrection. Skeptics have been challenged to produce a single example where a great myth about a historical figure arose and was generally believed within 30 years after the historical figure died and no such example has been produced. (full briefing>>)
  • Myths and legends about historical figures always contain two layers — an initial historical non-myth layer followed much later by a myth overlay.  However, in the case of Jesus, there is only one layer.  From the beginning to the end, Jesus is described as performing miracles and/or rising from the dead, even in writings outside of the Bible. No first layer exists in the historical record. (full briefing>>)
  • Because in the Jewish culture at that time women were not considered to be trustworthy witnesses, if Jesus’ resurrection was mere myth or legend, the Jewish inventors of the myth would have had men (not women) be the first, and maybe only, witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. (full briefing>>)
  • Simon Peter and the apostle John explicitly stated they were not spreading myths or tales but were reporting what they and other eyewitnesses had seen or heard (see, 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-4).  Both of these men were horribly persecuted and Peter was killed for spreading this gospel.  If these men even suspected the resurrection was a myth, they would not have been willing to suffer such great persecution to preserve the myth. (full briefing>>)
  • James the Just and Paul fka Saul were skeptics. Paul was a hardcore skeptic and hated Christians so much he spent at least a couple of years hunting them down to have them arrested and persecuted.  However, after encountering the risen Jesus, both James and Paul not only became Christ followers, but died as martyrs. If the resurrection was a mere myth or legend, these two skeptics would have suspected it and would never have sacrificed their lives to preserve the myth or legend. (full briefing>>)
  • Most of the witnesses initially doubted Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and they would not have been convinced otherwise if there was any suspicion Jesus’ appearances were part of a myth or legend. (full briefing>>)
  • The writing styles of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are not mythical in nature. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 9

A Substitute Was Crucified in Jesus’ Place and the Real Jesus Appeared in a Non-Resurrected Body

Some skeptics assert another man was substituted for Jesus and the substitute was crucified in the place of Jesus.  After the substitute was buried, the real Jesus reappeared in a non-resurrected body and the witnesses only thought Jesus had been resurrected.

Similarly, the Islamic holy book (the Qur’an) states Jesus only appeared to be crucified but he ascended to heaven without ever dying. Sura 4:157-158 states, “they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them”, rather, “Allah took him up unto Himself.”  According to Islamic tradition, another man was mistakenly crucified by the Romans. [See, Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pgs. 219-220 (2002)]

Christian apologists respond to the above claims by raising the following points:

  • The Jewish leaders despised Jesus so much they had followed him around Galilee trying to trap him into saying something they could use to discredit him.  These Jewish leaders were also at Jesus’ crucifixion.  If another man had been substituted for Jesus before or during his crucifixion, they certainly would have realized it and objected. (full briefing>>)
  • The friends and family of Jesus who were at the crucifixion would have known if someone else was had been substituted for Jesus. (full briefing>>)
  • From the time Jesus was arrested through the time he was declared dead on the cross, there is no time in the historical record when another man could have been switched places with Jesus. (full briefing>>)

Alternative Explanation No. 10

Jesus Conspired to Fake His Death, or He Otherwise Survived the Crucifixion (e.g., the Swoon Theory), and then He Subsequently Appeared to the Witnesses in a Non-Resurrected Body

Some skeptics propose Jesus conspired with someone (perhaps Joseph of Arimathea) to give him a potion (e.g., wine mixed with gall and/or myrrh) while he was on the cross to make it appear as though he had died. The co-conspirator then arranged for Jesus to be put in a tomb where he could revive.  After Jesus revived in the tomb, he appeared in a non-resurrected body and those who saw him assumed he had been resurrected from the dead.

Similarly, some skeptics argue in favor of the Swoon Theory in which it is proposed that although Jesus may not have purposely faked his death, he did survive the crucifixion and was still alive when he was placed in the tomb.  Thereafter, he was revived by the coolness of the tomb and/or burial spices and fragrances used to prepare his body for burial and Jesus subsequently appeared to the witnesses who thought Jesus had risen from the dead.

In response to theories which suggest Jesus didn’t die on the cross, Christian apologists raise the following points:

  • There is no record of anyone alive during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion who alleged Jesus had survived the crucifixion. Such a theory wasn’t advanced until 1800 years after all the eyewitnesses had died.  (full briefing>>)
  • Even assuming Jesus took wine mixed with gall and/or myrrh (which the gospels of Matthew and Mark say Jesus refused) and even if he took the sponge full of sour wine referenced in the gospel of John, none of these elements, alone or in combination, would have made Jesus appear dead, especially to trained Roman executioners. (full briefing>>)
  • The process of crucifixion ensured Jesus’ death because the process included the following:
    • Being whipped 39 times with a flagrum which left the victim’s back, buttocks and legs filleted open.  Many died of hypovolemic shock just from the whipping. (full briefing>>)
    • Being nailed to a cross with five to seven inch nails hammered through the nerve tunnels located in the victim’s wrists and feet would have caused severe damage to the nerves in the arms and legs of the victim. (full briefing>>)
    • After being nailed to the crossbar, the crossbar was thrust up onto a vertical beam which would have caused the victim’s arms to be stretched out about six (6) inches and most probably would have caused both shoulders to be dislocated. (full briefing>>)
    • Victims of crucifixion usually died due to asphyxiation. As the victim hung on the cross, tremendous stress was exerted on the diaphragm and other muscles in the upper body which forced the person’s chest into an inhaled position.  In order to exhale, the victim had to push up with his feet and legs to relieve the pressure on the diaphragm so air could be expelled from the lungs. As the victim’s breathing slowed, respiratory acidosis developed which, in turn, caused the heart to beat erratically.  When the victim became too exhausted to push his body up to exhale, he stopped breathing causing his heart to stop resulting in death by asphyxiation. (full briefing>>)
    • During the crucifixion process, watery fluid would have collected in the membranes surrounding the heart and lungs.  When the spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, it probably went through his right lung causing clear water-like fluid to flow out of the wound in his side, followed by a large amount of blood flow out of his heart.  Medical doctors attest this establishes beyond any reasonable doubt Jesus died on the cross. (full briefing>>)
  • Because the death penalty was normally attached to any Roman soldier who let a prisoner escape, the soldiers who crucified Jesus had every motive to ensure he was dead. The fact the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs (as they did with the two criminals crucified with Jesus) is a strong inference the soldiers had previously determined Jesus was dead. (full briefing>>)
  • Pilate confirmed Jesus was dead with the centurion soldier. (full briefing>>)
  • The Jewish leaders witnessed the crucifixion and wouldn’t have resorted to claiming the disciples had stolen the body if they thought it was possible Jesus had survived the crucifixion. (full briefing>>)
  • I Corinthians 15:3-8 states Jesus “died…, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day….”  This passage has been dated back to within 2-5 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and became part of the early church creed (a summary statement of Christian beliefs). Therefore, it Jesus’ disciples clearly thought Jesus had died on the cross. (full briefing>>)
  • Swoon Theorists rely on the elements of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial that seem to support their theory but ignore or modify facts that don’t support their theory.  For example, they emphasize Pilate was surprised Jesus was dead after only being on the cross for about 6 hours yet they ignore the testimony that a centurion soldier verified to Pilate Jesus was dead. (full briefing>>)
  • In Jesus’ day, Jewish burial tradition included coating the burial cloth with spices weighing about 75 pounds and Swoon Theorists do not explain how a badly injured, half-dead Jesus could have gotten out of the grave clothes that encased his body. (full briefing>>)
  • Swoon Theorists offer no explanation as to how Jesus could have gotten out of the tomb that was blocked by a 1 to 2 ton stone and guarded by Roman soldiers. (full briefing>>)
  • Theories which propose Jesus survived the crucifixion require Jesus’ disciples, who saw him after he had been crucified and buried for three days, to have stupidly mistaken a badly beaten and nearly dead Jesus as their resurrected Lord and Savior. (full briefing>>)
  • Theories which propose Jesus was never crucified or somehow survived the crucifixion require Jesus to have engaged in a fraud by claiming to have risen from the dead.  However, engaging in fraudulent conduct is not only inconsistent with Jesus’ reputation for having great integrity but also violated his own teachings against lying which would have made Jesus into one of the hypocrites he so clearly despised. (full briefing>>)
  • Theories which propose Jesus didn’t die as reported in the New Testament fail to offer any reasonable explanation of the complete absence of any historical data about Jesus’ earthly life after his alleged crucifixion. (full briefing>>)
  • Given the well-known excruciating pain a man faced during the process of a crucifixion, Jesus had no motive to even try to fake his death in such a horrifying and painful way. (full briefing>>)
  • It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fake one’s death by way of crucifixion. (full briefing>>)

Summary

In support of the proposition that belief in Jesus’ resurrection is rational, Christian apologists point to the historical evidence that after Jesus was crucified and buried, he appeared in a resurrected body on 12 separate occasions, over a 40 day period to more than 500 eyewitnesses. In response, skeptics have offered various alternative explanations to account for the historically documented eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances.  However, as summarized above and detailed in the linked articles, Christian apologists confidently maintain none of the alternative theories adequately explain the totality of the historical evidence and none of the theories are rationally compelling.

Since there are good reasons to believe God exists (here>>) and, therefore, could have supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, and since none of the proffered alternative explanations adequately explain the historical evidence of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances, Christian apologists maintain it is reasonable to rely on the historical record of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances as a rational basis for believing God did ,in fact, raise Jesus from the dead.

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are always preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Occam’s razor can only be reasonably relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).

In this case, the evidence weighs against any of the alternative explanations offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death. Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is at least reasonable to look beyond such explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede that if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. 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:

  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>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful deserters to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  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
  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 to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. 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
  7. 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

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

Scale of Suggested Difficulty: Jr. High (JH); High School (HS); College (C); Graduate School (GS)

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997) (HS/C)

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) (HS/C)

Chuck Colson, Loving God, pgs. 68-69(Zondervan, 1983) (HS/C)

William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb (Servant, 1988) (HS/C)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008) (C)

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)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999) (HS/C)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004) (HS/C)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994) (C)

Josh McDowell (compiled by Bill Wilson), A Ready Defense The Best Of Josh Mcdowell(Thomas Nelson, 1992) (HS/C)

J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity(Baker Academic, 1987) (C)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (Zondervan,1958) (HS / C)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004) (HS/C)

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