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 historically documented evidence that after Jesus died on the cross, he was seen alive by multiple witnesses in a physically resurrected body.

Attempts have been made to explain away the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection with proposals that another man was substituted for Jesus and the real Jesus appeared to his disciples after the substitute was crucified.  As stated in the Qur’an, Jesus only appeared to be crucified but, instead, ascended to heaven without dying and, according to Islamic tradition, another man was mistakenly crucified by the Romans. 

As discussed in this article, Christian apologists reject such propositions as wholly inadequate and certainly not 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)]

When confronted with the historically documented evidence that Jesus was seen alive after his crucifixion, some skeptics hypothesize another man could have been substituted for Jesus and the substitute was crucified in place of the real Jesus. After the substitute was buried, the real Jesus reappeared in a non-resurrected body and the witnesses only thought he had been resurrected.

According to the Muslim holy book (the Qur’an aka Koran), Jesus only appeared to be crucified but, instead, ascended to heaven without dying. Sura 4:157-158 says, “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. [Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pgs. 219-220 (2002)]

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Proposition that a Substitute was Mistakenly Crucified for Jesus is Inadequate

Christian apologists respond to the proposition that a substitute was mistakenly crucified in place of Jesus by raising the following points in rebuttal:

Rebuttal Point No. 1: The Jewish Leaders Would Have Known if Some Else Had Been Substituted for Jesus and Objected

The Jewish leaders clearly knew who Jesus was and what he looked like:

These Jewish leaders, who were so intent on discrediting Jesus and/or doing away with him were at the crucifixion (see, Matt. 27:41-44; Mark 15:31-32; Luke 23:35; John 19:19-22, 30-31), would have realized if another man had been substituted for Jesus and certainly would have objected. [See, Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pgs. 219-220 (2002)]

Rebuttal Point No. 2: Jesus’ Friends and Family Would Have Known if Someone Else was Substituted for Jesus

The gospels of John and Luke report Jesus’ friends and family (including Jesus’ own mother and brother, as well as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (presumably John)), witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (see, Luke 23:49-56; John 19:25-27, 38-42). Certainly, these individuals would have realized if another man had been substituted for Jesus before or during the crucifixion. [See, Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 220 (2002)]

Rebuttal Point No. 3: There is No Historical Data that Allows for a Time When the Substitution Could Have Occurred

Those who allege someone else was substituted for Jesus prior to his crucifixion should identify a time and place when the substitution could have taken place. However, from the time that Jesus was arrested until the time he was declared dead on the cross, there is no time in the historical record when a substitute could have taken Jesus’ place. Moreover, there is no explanation as to why someone would agree to switch places with a man the authorities were demanding be killed by crucifixion.  even is a switch had somehow been made, there is no reasonable explanation as to why nobody, (including Jesus’ friends, family and ardent enemies) didn’t realize a switch had been made.

Conclusion

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states that simple explanations are preferable to more complex explanations, only states that 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 can be offered (more>>).

In this case, the rebuttal points set forth above evidentially weigh against the explanation that someone else was substituted for Jesus before he was crucified with the real Jesus appearing later in a non-resurrected body.  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 at least reasonable to look beyond the alternative explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all of 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. 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 fleers 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

Published: June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: Feb. 21, 2013

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

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

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)

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

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

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)

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

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

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Tags: appeared to be crucified, Bible, Christian, Christianity, crucifixion, God, Jesus, Jesus’ resurrection, Koran, Quran, raised from the dead, resurrected, Resurrection, substitute, substitution, Sura, sustituted

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